There are around 7000 spoken languages in the world and about 300 writing systems. Image: AI rendering of an image created by kk.
What is Language?
Language is the most important method of human communication. A language consists of a set of words and sounds used in a structured way and is communicated between people through speaking, writing, and gestures. Language is the specifically human capacity for acquiring and using complex systems of acoustic as well as kinesic signals to express thoughts and feelings. Language is also used for the exchange of knowledge and experiences.
The problem on this planet is that language systems vary greatly from region to region. The diversity can be so great that a person cannot understand the language of a member from another region or country. To overcome such obstacles, people developed the lingua francas or trade languages, used to exchange information between speakers of different native languages.
Of all the languages in the world, about one-third of those spoken come from Africa and another third from Asia.
What are the official languages of the United Nations?
The UN has six official languages: Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish. [UN]
How many languages are there in the world?
There are about 7000 spoken languages in the world and about 300 writing systems.
Which language is the number 1 worldwide?
According to various sources, English is the most widely spoken language in the world, with around 1.35 billion speakers (first and second language (L1 and L2)). English is the lingua franca of the modern era.
Which language has the most native speakers?
Taking into account only the number of native speakers, Standard Chinese (Mandarin) is the most widely spoken language in the world, followed by Spanish and English.
Languages by Continent
Geographic Distribution of Living Languages (2022)
How many living languages are there on each continent?
Africa's four major language families are Niger-Congo, Nilo-Saharan, Afroasiatic, and Khoisan, as well as another Austronesian language family spoken in Madagascar. [Harvard]
Africa's main languages are Swahili, Amharic, Yoruba, Oromo, Hausa, Igbo, Zulu and Shona.
The main "foreign" (colonial) languages spoken in Africa are Arabic, English, French and Portuguese. Due to colonization, various Creole languages have developed in Africa, such as Sango, Kinubi, Lingala (a Bantu-based trade language and official language in both Congos) and Afrikaans, also known as Cape Dutch, a colonial language developed in South Africa from 17th-century Dutch.
Swahili (kiSwahili) is a Bantu language and lingua franca for much of East Africa.
The Americas are North America (which includes Central America and the Caribbean islands) and South America.
The predominant languages in the Americas are Spanish, English, Portuguese and French, languages that have largely displaced the pre-Columbian indigenous languages.
Among the main indigenous languages of the Americas is Quechua, the language of the Inca Empire is still spoken in the Andean region, especially in Peru. Mayan languages, spoken in Mexico and Guatemala and Guarani, a language of Paraguay, the Misiones Province of Argentina, southern Brazil and parts of Uruguay and Bolivia.
Major North American Native American languages are Navajo, Sioux (Dakota, Lakota, and Nakota) and Eskimo–Aleut languages.
Some examples of American Creole languages are Papiamento, a Portuguese/Spanish/Dutch-based creole spoken in the Dutch Caribbean, and Jamaican Creole, an English-based creole spoken in Jamaica. Haitian Creole (kreyòl ayisyen), spoken in Haiti, is based on French, while Dominican Spanish, based on Andalusian and Canary Island Spanish dialects, is spoken in the neighboring Dominican Republic. Guyana is the only English-speaking nation in South America, but the predominant language is Guyanese, an English-based creole.
Asia comprises the countries of the Asian part of Russia, the Middle East, Central Asia, South Asia, Maritime Southeast Asia and East Asia.
The languages of Asia include Sino-Tibetan, with more than 400 languages such as Chinese (Mandarin and Cantonese), Tibetan, and (Lolo) Burmese.
Japanese and Korean are considered isolated languages.
Tai–Kadai (also known as Kra–Dai) is a language family of over 90 languages spoken on the Indochinese Peninsula in Thailand, in Shan State (Burma), Yuan (Northern Thai), and Laos, as well as in South and Central China. Kra–Dai is spoken by nearly 100 million people.
The languages of the Indian subcontinent are Indo-European languages (Indo-Aryan), such as Hindi-Urdu, Bengali, and Bhojpuri, spoken by about 78% of Indians. Dravidian languages such as Tamil-Kannada and Telugu are spoken by about 20% of the Indian population.
Other major Asian languages are Farsi (Persian), Turkic, Russian and Arabic.
The Australia/Oceania/Pacific region comprises Australia and New Zealand and the islands of Melanesia, Micronesia and Polynesia.
Australian English is by far the most commonly spoken language in Australia. Yumplatok (Torres Strait Creole) is the most commonly spoken language among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. [ABS] Over 150 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages are spoken in Australia.
English is the de facto official language in New Zealand, and Māori (te reo Māori) is the only indigenous language in the archipelago.
Austronesian languages are spoken throughout the Pacific Ocean islands of Oceania, in Maritime Southeast Asia (Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines), by indigenous Taiwanese and in Madagascar. Major Austronesian languages are Cebuano, Malay (Bahasa Melayu), Javanese, Sundanese, and Tagalog (Filipino).
The European region comprises the countries of Europe and the European part of Russia.
Most of the languages of Europe can be traced back to the same root, a hypothetical language known as the Proto-Indo-European language. The Indo-European languages are a family of related languages widely spoken in the Americas, Europe, and West and South Asia.
Major languages in Europe are Spanish, French, Portuguese and Italian, all of which derive from Latin.
By contrast, the Scandinavian languages (Swedish, Norwegian, and Danish) were strongly influenced by Middle Low German during the period of Hanseatic expansion.
Finnish, Estonian as well as the Sami languages and Hungarian belong to the Finno-Ugric language family. There are two Baltic languages, Lithuanian and Latvian.
Dutch, English, the Frisian languages, Low German, Luxembourgish, Scottish and Yiddish have their roots in the Germanic language. Major Eastern European languages are Slavic languages such as Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian, Czech, Macedonian, Polish, Russian, Slovak and Ukrainian.
The most common languages spoken by native speakers
Top 20 of the most widely spoken languages by "First language" speakers.
A list of the most spoken languages by the number of native speakers.
Country of origin
Official language in how many countries
Number of native speakers
Mandarin Chinese is the most widely spoken language in the world if you count only native speakers (L1*).
Varieties of Chinese are Mandarin or Putonghua (the official language in mainland China), Jin, Wu, Hui, Gan, Xiang (Hunanese), Min (Hokkien), Hakka, Yue (Cantonese) and Ping. [WP]
Chinese characters or symbols are used to write the Chinese language. You need to learn about 2-3,000 Chinese characters to read a newspaper.
Standard Chinese is the official language in mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau and Singapore. Chinese (Mandarin) is the official language in Taiwan. Standard Chinese is one of the six official languages of the United Nations.
In China, public use of dialects other than Standard Mandarin (Putonghua) is discouraged by the government, and almost all education and the media are in the standard variety, with the notable exception of Cantonese in the media and public transportation in Guangdong.
Chinese is one of the three languages spoken in Malaysia. Thailand has the largest Chinese community outside of China, but Chinese is rarely spoken, mostly only by the older Thai Chinese population.
An estimated 1.3 billion people speak some variant of the Chinese language as their native language.
* L1 stands for the first language, native tongue, native language, or mother tongue. The first language a person learned.
Spanish is the second most spoken native language in the world.
Spanish is an official language in Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Equatorial Guinea, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Puerto Rico, Spain, Uruguay, and Venezuela.
A recent report (PDF) conducted by Instituto Cervantes asserts that nearly 493 million people in the world speak Spanish as their native tongue. [WC]
The Encyclopædia Britannica's entry for the Spanish language offers 360 million first language speakers. [EB]
In terms of native speakers, English is the third-most spoken language in the world.
An estimated 370 to 380 million people speak English as their native language.
English is the official language in 54 countries and the primary language in about 30 of these countries. [WP]
In Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States, English is not an official language but has de facto official status.
Hindi (excl. Urdu)
Modern Standard Hindi is mainly spoken in the north-central part of India. More than 26% of India's population speaks Hindi as their first language.
Hindi (in Devanagari script) is one of the official languages of India but is not the national language. [GoI]
Hindi is also spoken in countries with large Hindi communities, such as the US, Mauritius, Yemen, Uganda, Singapore, Pakistan, Nepal and New Zealand. [IT]
Hindi is a minority language in South Africa.
Hindustani (Hindi-Urdu) is an official language in Fiji, along with English and Fijian.
Bengali is the official language of Bangladesh, with its 168 million inhabitants; it is also one of the 22 official languages of India.
Bengali is spoken by about 90 million Indians in West Bengal, Assam, Jharkhand, and Tripura, and by about 30% of the inhabitants of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. 
The Bengali script is derived from Brahmi, one of the two ancient Indian scripts.
About 274 million people speak Portuguese, 250 million of whom are native speakers.
Standard Russian is the principal state and cultural language of Russia. [EB] Russian is an official language in Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. [WFB]
Russian is spoken as a mother tongue by about 154 million people. [Ethnologue]
Russian is one of the six official languages of the United Nations.
Japanese is Japan's national language; it is spoken mainly on the islands of the Japanese archipelago. Japanese is a language isolate, a language unrelated to any other language.
Proto-Japonic, the common ancestor of Japanese and the Ryukyuan languages, is thought to have been brought to Japan by settlers coming from the Korean peninsula sometime in the early to mid-4th century BCE. [WP][Vogler]
Japanese has three writing systems, Kanji, is written with logographic characters taken from the Chinese script. There are two Kana writing systems, Hiragana, a rounded Japanese syllabic script derived from Chinese characters by simplification and Katakana, a Japanese syllabic script with a more angular form of kana (syllabary), used primarily for words of foreign origin.
Rōmaji is the earliest Japanese romanization system. Romanization of Japanese is the use of the Latin script for writing the Japanese language. [WP]
Cantonese is a form of Chinese spoken mainly in Liangguang (the Guangdong and Guangxi provinces) of southern China (including Hong Kong). Cantonese, also known as Yue, is one of the official languages of Hong Kong and Macao.
Vietnamese is the official and national language of Vietnam. It is spoken in Vietnam by ethnic Vietnamese and Vietnam's many minorities, as well as by Vietnamese communities worldwide. Vietnamese is written in Latin script with intensive use of diacritical marks.
Marathi is spoken in Maharashtra, the second-most populous state in India. It is the language of the Marathi people, native to Maharashtra in western India. The Devanagari and Modi scripts are used to write the Marathi language.
Central Eastern India
Telugu is a Dravidian language and an official language in the Indian states of Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Puducherry (Yanam) and
West Bengal. Telugu is spoken by Telugu people and is India's fourth most spoken language after Hindi, Bengali and Marathi.
Turkish is spoken predominantly in Turkey and Northern Cyprus, a Turkish-occupied territory on the island of Cyprus. Turkish is an official language in Cyprus, Northern Cyprus and Turkey. There are also larger groups of Turkish speakers in Iraq, Syria, Germany, Austria, Bulgaria, northern Macedonia, Greece, the Caucasus, and other parts of Europe and Central Asia.
Wu is a Chinese language mainly spoken in eastern China in the Yangtze River estuary, Shanghai, and Zhejiang province.
Korean is the official and national language of both North Korea and South Korea. Over the years of political division, the two Koreas have developed some distinct differences in the vocabulary of the language.
Modern Korean is written in the Korean script (한글; Hangul in South Korea, 조선글; Chosŏn'gŭl in North Korea).
French is an Indo-European language of the Romance family whose speakers are called Francophones.
The origins of the French language date back to the introduction of Latin by the Romans to the Celtic-speaking inhabitants of Gaul. [BL]
French is known as the language of Molière, spoken in France. French was a popular language of the European nobility and is the language in most of France's former colonies and in the French Overseas Territories.
French is the official or co-official language in Belgium, Benin, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Canada, Central African Republic, Chad, Comoros, both Congos, Côte d'Ivoire, Djibouti, France, Gabon, Guinea, Haiti, Luxembourg, Madagascar, Mali, Mauritania (de facto), Mauritius (de facto), Monaco, Morocco (de facto), Niger, Rwanda, Senegal, Seychelles, Switzerland and Togo.
Tamil is a language from the Dravidian language family. It is spoken as a mother tongue by at least 76 million members of the Tamil people, mainly in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu and in Sri Lanka. Tamil is one of the four official languages of Singapore.
The recorded history of the Germanic languages begins with the first contact of the Germanic peoples with the Romans in the 1st century BC.
Standard High German (SHG), or Hochdeutsch, is the standardized variant of the German language widely used in formal communication, official speeches, teaching materials, printed matter, and other media. German is the official or a co-official language in Austria, Belgium, Germany, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg and Switzerland. German is also an official language in the Autonomous Province of South Tyrol, Italy. [suedtirol-daheim]
People speak German as their mother tongue in 42 countries around the world. Around 130 million people worldwide speak German as their mother tongue. [Deutschland.de]
Egyptian Arabic is the most widely spoken Arabic dialect in Egypt. Egyptian Arabic is known throughout much of the Arab world through movies and songs and is therefore understood by most Arabs.
Urdu is the Persian variant of Hindi written in a Perso-Arabic script. Urdu is the national language of Pakistan and one of the official languages in the Indian states of Kashmir, Telangana, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, New Delhi, and West Bengal.
Urdu developed in northwestern India in the 12th century CE and served as a means of linguistic communication after the Muslim conquest.
More about Languages:
Official and National Languages of the World by Continent.