How many languages do you think there are in the world? 1000? 3000? 5371? You’re getting closer. According to the 2009 catalogue by Ethnologue, there are over 6900 distinct languages in the world. This means that I can order food in about 0.0006 percent of all the world’s languages.
Out of these almost 7000 languages, only 230 are spoken in Europe while over 2000 are spoken in Asia. In Papua-New Guinea, a small Oceanian country with about 3.9 million inhabitants, an impressive number of over 830 different languages can be found.
We’re not going to go through all 6900 languages. For now, we’ll focus on the five most spoken languages in the world – the ones that will probably never be threatened by extinction.
5. Arabic: over 295 million native speakers
Arabic contains a lot of dialects that are not mutually intelligible. Classic Arabic is also the sacred language of Islam and during prayers, the Koran is only recited in Arabic.
4. Hindi: over 310 million native speakers
Hindi is mainly spoken in India and Nepal and is part of the Hindi languages family – over 100 million additional people speak a language related to Hindi.
3. English: over 360 million native speakers
Even though it’s only ranked third, English is still the most influential language in the world (so the glass is really half full here) and has the biggest number of people who speak it as a second, third or fourth language.
2. Spanish: over 405 million native speakers
The silver medal goes to Spanish and the 30 countries in which it is spoken. ¡Olé!
1. Mandarin Chinese: over 955 million native speakers
And we have a winner! Mandarin is part of the Chinese language family and is mainly spoken in China, Taiwan and Singapore – by a whole lot of people.
These are big numbers that are hard to grasp. Even if I add my 400 Facebook friends and all my offline friends together, I cannot imagine what nearly 1 billion native Mandarin speakers actually looks or sounds like! This wonderful infographic cleverly breaks down the languages in the best possible way: with a party!
If you went to a party with 100 guests, 17 of them could discuss the fruit punch and the snack variety in Chinese. Six of the attendees could converse about the DJ’s playlist in Spanish and five of them could chat in English while waiting in line for the bathroom. There would be four guests who could compliment each other’s dance moves in Hindi, and three partygoers could comment on their #partyselfies in Arabic. Speaking of three, three visitors could discuss in Portuguese and Bengali respectively, why they didn’t make our Top 5 list, while two guests who spoke only Russian could challenge the two native Japanese partiers to a limbo contest. The other 55 guests would have nobody to talk to in their native language, so they would probably just stare at their phones and eat cheese cubes.