The 10 Most Spoken Languages In The World

Almost half of the world’s population claims one of only 10 languages as their mother tongue. So what are the top 10 languages of the world? You might be surprised.

Determining what are the most spoken languages in the world is a more difficult task than you might imagine. We can say with some confidence that Mandarin, English, Spanish and Arabic will make an appearance (and roughly in what order) but there are some surprises, too! Would you have guessed that Bengali is in the Top 10 most spoken languages?

One small caveat: Assigning hard data, in the form of “X million native speakers,” to any of these languages is practically impossible. What constitutes a language or a dialect, is hotly contested stuff. More troubling is the fact that what we refer to simply as “Chinese” is actually a whole family of languages conveniently lumped into a single category. “Hindi” is also used as a catchall term to cover numerous dialects and sub-dialects. We haven’t even yet acknowledged the unreliability of data sources, collected at different times by different institutions.

But then again, who doesn’t love a good list? Here are the most spoken languages in the world:

1. Chinese

What is the most spoken language in the world? Chinese

Numbers vary widely — Ethnologue puts the number of native speakers at almost 1.2 billion native speakers, roughly a billion of whom speak Mandarin — but there’s no doubt it’s the most spoken language in the world. If you wish to learn a language that one in six people in the world speak, this is the one for you. Seeing as Chinese is a tonal language that uses thousands of logograms, it will certainly keep you busy.

2. Spanish

The most spoken languages: Spanish

If we were only to look at native speakers, Spanish has its nose in front of English with about 400 million speakers. If you want a language that will open up whole continents to you, Spanish is your best bet. As with all the languages on this list, the politics of language and associated identity are highly disputed: ask Catalan or Quechua speakers if Spanish is their local tongue and you will get a very different answer. But it is certainly the primary language of most of South and Central America, Spain, and, ahemlarge swathes of the US.

3. English

What are the most spoken languages? English

If you’re reading this article, you may be one of the 360 million-odd native English speakers, or one of the half a billion people who speak it as a second language. This indicates the remarkable success of English as the lingua franca of business, travel and international relations. The relative ease with which English can be picked up (especially compared with Chinese) and the pervasive soft power of US culture means that English will continue to dominate the world stage for the foreseeable future. For some, English is still synonymous with opportunity and a better quality of life.

4. Hindi

What are the most spoken world languages? Hindi

India has 23 official languages, with Hindi/Urdu chief among them. Whether this is one language — Hindustani — or two dialects, is still fiercely debated. Spoken mainly in northern India and parts of Pakistan, Hindi uses devnagri script, while Urdu uses Persian notation. At the time of writing, the debate about its role in Indian education and society has once again flared up: Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a Hindu nationalist, is seeking to have Hindi displace English in the southern Indian states as the primary language of official communication and education, a strategy that has been met with resistance. If you ever travel in the Indian subcontinent, a little Hindi will get you a long way. Plus, this is the language that gave us shampoojunglejodhpurs and bungalow — what’s not to love?

5. Arabic

Most spoken language — Arabic

Recent numbers put Arabic at around 250 million native speakers. But this is another instance of numbers not telling the full tale: Arabic, like Chinese, is so vastly different in its respective dialects as to be effectively a number of languages, grouped as one for the sake of convenience. Modern Standard Arabic is a primarily written form, closely related to the Classical Arabic of the Quran. However, the spoken forms of Arabic in, say, Oman and Morocco are so different that a couple of philosophy professors from these countries might be able to discuss the finer points of the ancient texts while still struggling to order lunch.

6. Portuguese

Most spoken languages — Portuguese

This is another language whose reach owes much to its colonial past. Starting in the 15th century, avid Portuguese traders and conquerors brought their language to Africa, Asia and the Americas. The spread of Portuguese may have initially been tied to European colonization, but the colonized countries developed their own vibrant cultures that transformed the language forever. Today, Portuguese is spoken by 215 million native speakers in countries like Brazil, Goa, Angola, Mozambique, Cape Verde, Guinea-Bisseau, São Tomé and Príncipe, and Macau. It’s also the language of Machado de Assis, Bossa Nova, Mia Couto, Fernando Pessoa, and Agualusa.

7. Bengali

Most spoken languages — Bengali

Admit it: you didn’t expect Bengali to be on the list of most spoken languages. The Partition of Bengal by the British in 1947 divided (mainly Hindu) West Bengal, now part of India, from its (mainly Muslim) counterpart East Bengal, now Bangladesh. It is the language of Kolkata, the Andaman Islands, fabulous sweets, and 170-odd million Bangladeshis — many of whom are extremely vulnerable to climate change. By the next century, the population is projected to double while 15% of the land area is expected to disappear below rising seas.

8. Russian

Most spoken languages — Russian

With roughly 170 million native speakers as of 2010, Russian is the eighth most spoken language in the world. Famed for its inscrutable grammar and quite lovely Cyrillic script, it remains one of the six languages spoken in the UN, and produced the literary likes of Dostoyevsky, Nabokov, Chekhov, Gogol, Tolstoy and Pushkin.

9. Japanese

Most common languages — Japanese

Almost all of the 130 million native Japanese speakers live in Japan — certainly the most highly geographically concentrated of all the languages on this list. Japanese boasts two distinct writing systems, hiragana and katakana, as well making extensive use of Chinese Kanji characters. The largest groups living outside Japan can be found in the US, the Philippines and Brazil.

10. Punjabi/Lahnda

Most common languages — Punjabi

With varying estimates of around 100 million native speakers, last spot on the list goes to… Punjabi! (Sorry, German — you got dumped from top world languages a few years back.) Spoken in large tracts of India and Pakistan, the Punjab was sliced in two by the British when they left, and millions of people were forced to abandon their homes, businesses and families. But they’re slowly taking their revenge, Bollywood-style: Punjabi songs now account for 50% of chart-toppers. That’s a comeback if we’ve ever seen one.

Why use Machine Translation

Why use Machine Translation?

It is helpful for quick translation; however, machine translation cannot replace qualified human translators. If the translation must be of a high quality standard, the job has to be done by a human translator. Most MT systems would be called gisting engines. They allow you get the gist of a text, roughly what is being said. The problem with machine translation is that it can never understand what is being written so can generate some pretty awful mistakes. An example of a phrase that MT would find difficult to translate might be the following text… “Single Colour Ink Cartridge

This phrase can have multiple meanings depending on the context. It can mean…

  1. a cartridge with a single colour. A red one, a blue one, a green one
  2. a cartridge that contains all colours. This printer takes a single colour ink cartridge. Only a professional translator can understand that the context is missing and important. Some companies use MT for cheap translation. The use of MT is a fast way to get a translation and can increase productivity of translators who may use the MT as a rough draft, i.e. pre-translation. They can then edit the MT translation afterwards. There are plenty of MT platforms, but the most famous machine translation platforms on the Internet are: Google Translate, Yahoo!, Babelfish, Reverso, and Bing Translator

Another interesting example is the sentence “sharks swim in schools“. Type this into any of the current machine translation engines and translate it into French. All our tests show the example same result – literally that sharks swim in “schools” = “écoles”, where children go to learn. So lots of scared children and only bad translation.

Free isn’t Free

The old motto still holds true that anything free comes with a price. If you’d like to read more about free translation and our advice on getting the most from it visit these Free Translation Resources.

Even the MT providers reckon that MT translations do not deliver superior quality: “Even today’s most sophisticated software, however, doesn’t approach the fluency of a native speaker or possess the skill of a professional translator. Automatic translation is very difficult, as the meaning of words depends on the context in which they’re used. While we are working on the problem, it may be some time before anyone can offer human quality translations.”

SDL Trados Translation Memory FAQ’s

When would I use a translation memory?

Translation memories should be used by anyone who localizes content from one language into another. When a translator’s jobs regularly contain the same kinds of phrases and sentences, a translation memory will drastically increase the speed of translation.

Translation memories are also very helpful when translating content out of context. An increasing number of organizations rely on Content Management Systems (CMS) to manage their information. A CMS allows individual blocks of text, rather than entire documents, to be created/edited and then published in a variety of different formats. A translation memory helps to make this process quicker and more consistent.

How does a translation memory differ from a termbase?

A translation memory stores segments of text as translation units. A segment can consist of a sentence or paragraph. The TM holds both the original and translated version of each segment for reuse.

A termbase, on the other hand, is a searchable database that contains a list of multilingual terms and rules regarding their usage.

A translation memory is typically used in conjunction with a termbase within SDL Trados Studio.

How does translation memory software differ from machine translation?

Machine translation refers to automated translation by a computer, without human input.

Translation memory software requires human input as it reuses content that has been previously translated to complete new translation work. The original translation is performed by a professional translator.

Machine translation may be used in conjunction with a translation memory to improve the speed of translation. For example, when a translation memory does not have enough information to complete a segment of text, SDL Language Cloud Machine Translation can be used to automatically complete the segment. The translator may then edit the machine translation and save the completed segment to the translation memory so it may be reused later.

Can SDL translation memories work with many different file formats?

Yes. SDL translation memories are used within SDL Trados Studio, which is compatible with a wide range of file formats. These include Microsoft Office, OpenOffice, RTF, Tab Delimited, HTML and XML.

We also support complex formats like Adobe FrameMaker, Adobe InDesign/InDesign Markup Language (IDML) and InCopy Markup Language (ICML), PDF, XLIFF, and XML flavours such as DITA, Docbook and W3C ITS.

Does SDL Trados Studio come pre-packed with translation memories?

Translation memories are created from the completed translations of a translator, and are not pre-packaged with SDL Trados Studio. By translating within Studio or analysing previously translated content, a translation is built using your own work.

How do I make a translation memory using my previous translations?

SDL Trados Studio includes an Alignment feature which enables the creation of a translation memory by comparing original and translated documents you have completed in the past. This is a simple process and allows you to leverage all of your past work, even if you have never used Studio to translate before.

How a translation memories saved?

Translation memories are not kept within SDL Trados Studio – they are stored as the SDLTM file format. They may be stored locally or across a network.

TAUS launches e-learning platform

TAUS is proud to offer the TAUS eLearning Platform specifically tailored to the needs and demands of the professionals in the translation and localization industry.

So far TAUS has trained and certified more than 2,000 language professionals through TAUS training courses. Recent breakthroughs in neural technology drive a great interest among corporations to train their workforce to meet the requirements of the age more than ever. On the other hand there is a keen interest among professionals to step up from the ‘one-quality-fits-all’ service delivery and acquire deeper skills in cultural adaptation. This demand has inspired TAUS to completely revamp its existing courses and carry them onto a brand-new eLearning Platform.

On the TAUS eLearning Platform, TAUS offers not only various courses such as the Post-Editing/Reviewing Course and Quality Management Course, but also hosts an environment for the language professionals community where they can access latest TAUS reports, articles and engage in forum discussions.

The TAUS eLearning Platform is designed to quickly capture learners’ attention and keep it with the state-of-the-art visual technology, and a professional voice-over. The modular structure of the courses allows learners to develop their skills effectively in a self-paced environment. The TAUS eLearning Platform can also be accessed through a mobile app where all course modules and self-study materials can be followed on-the-go.

The TAUS eLearning Platform is an online and mobile training environment where taught skills are awarded with a certificate and a listing under TAUS Post-Editors Directory, a forum for global language professionals, a resource center for TAUS reports and best practices. New courses on technical and cultural aspects of translation will follow very soon.

Visit to get an impression of the platform as well as more detail regarding the courses.


TAUS, the language data network, is an independent and neutral industry organization. We develop communities through a program of events and online user groups and by sharing knowledge, metrics and data that help all stakeholders in the translation industry develop a better service. We provide data services to buyers and providers of language and translation services.The shared knowledge and data help TAUS members decide on effective localization strategies. The metrics support more efficient processes and the normalization of quality evaluation. The data lead to improved translation automation.TAUS develops APIs that give members access to services like DQF, the Quality Dashboard and the TAUS Data Market through their own translation platforms and tools. TAUS metrics and data are already built in to most of the major translation technologies.

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