One language sets you in a corridor for life.
Two languages open every door along the way.
— Frank Smith
According to Ethnologue, there are over 7,000 distinct languages in the world and around 40,000 dialects. There is an amazing diversity in languages – both in written and spoken forms.
On one hand, we have thriving languages like Arabic, Bengali, and Chinese with millions of native speakers, while on the other hand there are little-known languages like Xiri, Yem, and Zay which are on the verge of extinction. Some languages, like Russian and Hindi, are written from left-to-right, while others, like Hebrew and Persian, are written right-to-left.
There are logographic languages, like Japanese and Korean, where symbols represent words, and there are Dongba and Nsibidi which are pictographic languages where symbols represent ideas. From the sweet sounding Urdu to the “clicking” Xhosa, and from the “romantic” French to the “difficult” Finnish, the sheer variety of languages is mind boggling!
Did you know? The nation of Papua New Guinea has the highest language diversity in the world. An incredible 820 languages are spoken in an area the size of Spain or the US state of California!
These are the 10 most widely spoken languages in the world:
In this post, we bring you some of the most surprising facts about the most widely spoken languages in the world. So let’s delve deeper into the amazing world of languages.
Did you know? All commercial airline pilots on international routes are required to communicate in English.
That’s true. English is not only the most widespread language on land but also rules the skies. One would generally associate English with either the might of the former British Empire or the current reach of the American culture. However, it would come as a surprise to many that the largest English-speaking country in the world is not USA or UK, but India.
According to Wikipedia, “… combining native and non-native speakers, India has more people who speak or understand English than any other country in the world.”
Did you know? Equatorial Guinea is the only Spanish-speaking country in Africa. It is also the smallest Spanish-speaking country in the world.
After Chinese, Spanish is the most widespread language in the world. And thanks to Spain’s conquests of the Americas, Spanish is firmly embedded in the culture and ethos of much of Central and South America. Thus, Mexico – with over 120 million speakers – is the largest Spanish-speaking country in the world.
Did you know? The national anthems of both India (Jana Gana Mana) and Bangladesh (Amar Sonar Bangla) are in Bengali.
Bengali is the easternmost Indo-European language and originates from the Bengal region which comprises parts of eastern India and the nation of Bangladesh. For thousands of years, Bengali has influenced the culture of the Bengal region of India. In the 1970s, a resistance movement for the recognition of Bengali language led to the formation of Bangladesh, which became the largest Bengali-speaking country in the world. UNESCO observes the International Mother Language Day in memory of this event.
Did you know? French was the official language of England for almost 300 years, from 1066 to 1362.
The French language – considered as one of the most romantic and sophisticated languages in the world – is synonymous with France. However, contrary to popular opinion, France is not the largest French-speaking country in the world, neither is Canada – it is the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in Central Africa. In fact, Kinshasa which is the capital of the DRC is the second largest French-speaking city in the world, ahead of Montreal, Canada.
Did you know? Punjabi is one of the rare languages in the world that is written in two completely different scripts – Gurmukhi (written left-to-right) and Shahmukhi (written right-to-left).
Punjabi is the tenth most widely spoken language in the world and the only tonal language in the Indo-European family. The Punjab region – where the language originated – was partitioned between India and Pakistan in 1947. Since then, the Punjabi people in Pakistan have adopted the Arabic-like Shahmukhi (meaning “from the King’s mouth”) script to represent the language. Punjabi is also the primary language of the Sikh religion. Their main scripture – the Guru Granth Sahib – uses the Gurmukhi (meaning “from the teacher’s mouth”) script to write Punjabi.
Did you know? There are no capital letters in the Arabic alphabet. Instead, quotation marks are used for emphasis. [SOURCE]
The Arabic language is generally associated with Saudi Arabia. But it may come as a surprise to many that an African country – Egypt – is the largest Arabic-speaking country in the world. Egypt’s capital Cairo is the largest city in the Arab world and was the seat of the Islamic Caliphates for many centuries. On the other hand, the tiny island nation of Comoros in the Indian Ocean, is the smallest Arabic-speaking country in the world.
Did you know? Brazil has more Portuguese speakers than all the countries where Portuguese is spoken – combined!
Portuguese is one of the five Romance languages – along with French, Spanish, Italian and Romanian. Portuguese is spoken not only in Europe and South America but also in Africa and Asia. In fact, Sao Tome and Principe in Africa is the smallest Portuguese-speaking country in the world.
Did you know? Urdu is known for its grace and sophistication and is considered as one of the sweetest languages in the world.
Urdu is the national language of Pakistan which has about 16 million speakers of the language. However, with more than 80 million speakers, India is the largest Urdu-speaking country in the world. Urdu and Hindi are often considered as the same language, the difference being that Urdu is written in the Arabic script and is influenced by Persian, while Hindi is written in the Devanagari script and is influenced by Sanskrit.
We hope with this knowledge about languages you will be able to appreciate the spoken world better.