19/01/2017 - 11:34

Languages of the world

1. How many languages are there?

It is difficult to give an exact figure of the number of languages that exist in the world, because it is not always easy to define what a language is. The difference between a language and a dialect is not always clear-cut.

Languages of the worldIt’s estimated that up to 7.097 different languages are spoken around the world.

Approximately 80% of these languages are spoken by less than 100.000 people and about 140 languages are spoken by less than 10 people.

2.300 of the world’s languages can be found in Asia, while Europe has only 280.

Nearly every language uses a similar grammatical structure, even though they may not be linked in vocabulary or origin. Communities which are usually isolated from each other because of mountainous geography may have developed multiple languages. Papua New Guinea for instance, boasts no less than 840 different languages!


2. What are the world’s most spoken languages?

The world's most widely spoken languages by number of native speakers and as a second language, according to figures from UNESCO are:

-Chinese with almost 1 billion native speakers claims the top spot as the world’s most common language — and one that often requires professional translation services.

-Spanish with more than 380 million native speakers

-English with approximately 370 million native speakers but with over 700 million people speak it as a second language. It is the most widely learned second language and an official language of the United Nations, of the European Union, and of many other world and regional international organisations.

-Hindi one of the official languages of India, is spoken by more than 290 million native speakers and 129 million second or third language speakers.

-Arabic with almost 280 million native speakers

-Portuguese with 204 million native speakers

-Bengali is an Indo-Aryan language spoken in South Asia with little over 200 million native speakers

-Russian is an East Slavic language and an official language in Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan. It is an unofficial but widely spoken language in Ukraine and Latvia. With roughly 160 million native speakers as of 2010, Russian is the eighth most spoken language in the world.

-Japanese is an East Asian language spoken by about 130 million speakers, primarily in Japan, where it is the national language.

Languages of the world



3. What are the hardest & easiest languages to learn?


It would be pretty hard to sustain the argument that there is no such thing as easier and harder languages, although the level of difficulty will depend to a good extent on what your native tongue is, among other factors. In other words, language difficulty is partly a subjective notion that varies depending on which language(s) you are fluent in, and partly an objective one that varies depending on things such as the writing system used, grammar complexity, etc. Mandarin Chinese, for example, has a clearly much more difficult writing system than English. Learning a 26-letter alphabet is a lot easier than learning thousands of characters, no matter which part of the world you were born in, and no matter how motivated you are to learn Chinese.

As with most things in life, including learning a language, outstanding results are achieved because of the love for something. You should feel happy when you learn a language or anything else; otherwise, learning is not effective. 


The Foreign Service Institute of the U.S. Department of State compiled learning expectations for native English speakers looking to achieve speaking and reading proficiency in a number of different foreign languages, based on factors including the complexity of the language, resources available, how many hours devoted to study each week, and student motivation.

Voxy.com put together this nifty info graphic (via The Culture-ist), broken down into easy, medium and hard language categories.

The easiest languages — including Spanish, French, Portuguese and Italian — require just 23-24 weeks of study, or 575-600 class hours, to achieve proficiency, and are the easiest because of their closeness to English.

The most difficult languages — Arabic, Chinese, Korean and Japanese — require, on average, 1.69 years (88 weeks), or 2,200 class hours, to reach speaking and reading proficiency. 

Each of the four "hard" languages is difficult for its own reasons. Arabic's lack of vowels makes reading difficult for an English-speaking native, while Japanese and Chinese require the memorization of over a thousand unique characters.

Languages of the world

4. Interesting language facts internationally

  • Roughly 17% of U.S. citizens can speak more than one language, compared with 54% of Europeans.
  • According to research, on average, people who use languages in their jobs earn around 8% more!
  • Over a million people converse in 150-200 languages and 46 languages have just a single speaker!
  • French is considered to be the most useful language for business in the United Kingdom
  • Sweden and Netherlands share the highest score for the best English speakers worldwide
  • English is the most useful language for travelers and businessmen
  • 34% of the tweets in Twitter are in English
  • One in two Greeks can communicate in a foreign language, according to a survey held by the European Commission. Younger Greeks lead the way, with eight in 10 students able to communicate in a language other than Greek.
  • Luxembourg's citizens appear to be the most linguistically capable; some 99 percent of them know at least one foreign language. At the bottom end of the scale come the British, of whom only 30 percent know a language other than English. Also, about 36 percent of Italians and Spaniards have second-language skills.
  • Just over half of Europeans (54%) are able to hold a conversation in at least one additional language, a quarter (25%) are able to speak at least two additional languages and one in ten (10%) are conversant in at least three.
  • The five most widely spoken foreign languages remain English (38%), French (12%), German (11%), Spanish (7%) and Russian (5%). Almost everyone in Luxembourg (98%), Latvia (95%), the Netherlands (94%), Malta (93%), Slovenia and Lithuania (92% each), and Sweden (91%) are able to speak at least one language in addition to their mother tongue.
  • Countries where people are least likely to be able to speak any foreign language are Hungary (65%), Italy (62%), the UK and Portugal (61% in each), and Ireland (60%).

Languages of the world