Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
List of languages by total speakers
This page attempts to present a list of languages by total native speakers. Note, however, that lists such as this may vary somewhat depending upon the definition given to certain terms. In particular, the exact difference between "dialect" and "language" is often important.
An example of where this can have an impact is the case of Arabic, which can be considered either a single language or a group of related languages. The World Almanac, the CIA World Factbook, and Ethnologue, the sources of the tables given below, consider the varieties of Arabic to be separate languages. If the spoken varieties listed by Ethnologue are considered as forms of a single Arabic language, it appears in fourth place with about 215 million speakers.
A similar situation occurs with Chinese. If all the varieties of Chinese are counted as a single language, then Chinese appears in first place with over 1.2 billion speakers. If counted separately, then five varieties of Chinese are found in the top 25.
Note that these lists only take into account first-language (native) speakers. Counting second language speakers is extremely difficult and approximate at best.
Ethnologue estimates (1999)
The following table is based largely on a list of the world's top 100 languages published by Ethnologue in 1999.  Many of the estimates are for years prior to 1999. Notes indicate where information in the current table differs from Ethnologue's estimates.
The original Ethnologue list included Serbo-Croatian with 21 million speakers.
|Order number and language
||Countries and/or regions with more than 1% as native speakers
||Total number of native speakers (million)|
| 1. Mandarin Chinese
||Brunei, Cambodia, China, Malaysia, Mongolia, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand (8 countries)
| 2. Spanish
||Andorra, Argentina, Aruba, Belize, Bolivia, Cayman Islands, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Equatorial Guinea, Gibraltar, Guatemala, Honduras, Israel, Mexico, Netherlands Antilles, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Puerto Rico, Spain, United States, Uruguay, U.S. Virgin Islands, Venezuela (30 countries)
| 3. English
||American Samoa, Andorra, Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, Australia, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Brunei, Canada, Cayman Islands, Cook Islands, Dominica, Falkland Islands, Fiji, Gibraltar, Grenada, Guam, Guyana, Ireland, Israel, Liberia, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Montserrat, Nauru, New Zealand, Niue, Norfolk Island, Northern Marianas, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Philippines,Pitcairn, Puerto Rico, Saint Helena, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Seychelles, Singapore, Solomon Islands, South Africa, Tokelau, Trinidad, Turks and Caicos, United Kingdom, United States, U.S. Virgin Islands, Vanuatu, Zimbabwe (52 countries)
| 4. Arabic1
||Algeria, Bahrain, Chad, Djibouti, Egypt, Eritrea, France, Gaza Strip, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, United States, West Bank, Western Sahara, Yemen (28 countries)
| 5. Bengali
||Bangladesh, India, United Arab Emirates
| 6. Hindi
||India, Belize, South Africa, Yemen (4 countries)
| 7. Portuguese
||Andorra, Angola, Bermuda, Brazil, Canada, Cape Verde, East Timor, Guinea-Bissau, France, Luxembourg, Macau, Mozambique, Namibia, Netherlands Antilles, Paraguay, Portugal, São Tomé e Príncipe, South Africa, Switzerland, Venezuela (20 countries)
| 8. Russian
||Russia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Estonia, Georgia, Israel, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, United States, Uzbekistan (17 countries)
| 9. Japanese
||Argentina, Austria, Belgium, Bolivia, Brazil, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Paraguay, Poland, Switzerland, United States, Uruguay (18 countries)
|11. Wu Chinese
||India, Pakistan, Kenya, Singapore (4 countries)
||Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore
||North Korea, South Korea, Thailand
||Andorra, Belgium, Canada, Republic of the Congo, Côte d'Ivoire, Djibouti, France, French Polynesia, Gabon, Guadeloupe, Luxembourg, Martinique, Mauritius, Mayotte, Monaco, Morocco, New Caledonia, Saint Pierre and Miquelon, Seychelles, Switzerland, Vanuatu (21 countries)
||Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Germany, Greece, Republic of Macedonia, Netherlands, Turkey (8 countries)
||Cambodia, China, United States, Vietnam (4 countries)
|20. Cantonese (Yue Chinese)
||Brunei, Canada, China, Costa Rica, Indonesia, Malaysia, Panama, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam (11 countries)
||India, Malaysia, Mauritius, Singapore, South Africa, Sri Lanka (6 countries)
||Canada, Croatia, Eritrea, France, Italy, San Marino, Slovenia, Switzerland (8 countries)
||Afghanistan, India, Mauritius, Pakistan, South Africa, Thailand (6 countries)
|24. Min Nan Chinese
||Brunei, China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand (8 countries)
|25. Jinyu Chinese
||India, Kenya, Pakistan, Singapore, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe (9 countries)
||Czech Republic, Germany, Israel, Poland, Romania, Slovakia (6 countries)
||Poland, Slovakia, Ukraine, Russia (4 countries)
|29. Xiang Chinese
||Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Oman, Qatar, Tajikistan, United Arab Emirates (7 countries)
||India, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates (3 countries)
|32. Hakka Chinese
||Brunei, China, Malaysia, Taiwan, Thailand (5 countries)
||Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia, Iran, Iraq (5 countries)
||Hungary, Israel, Moldova, Romania, Serbia and Montenegro, Ukraine (6 countries)
||India, Mauritius, Nepal
|38. Gan Chinese
||Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Ghana, Niger, Nigeria, Sudan, Togo (8 countries)
||Netherlands, Surinam, Belgium
||Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, Singapore (4 countries)
Note 1: Ethnologue does not consider Standard Arabic (Fusha) to be a "mother tongue", i.e. a language with native speakers . It counts each of the spoken varieties of Arabic as a separate language. The sum of Ethnologue's estimates of native speakers of all of the spoken varieties of Arabic is about 215 million. The variety with the largest estimate is Egyptian Spoken Arabic with 42.5 million speakers, followed by Algerian Spoken Arabic with 22.4 million speakers.
Note 2: Punjabi is separated into two languages by Ethnologue: Western Punjabi (30,000,000) and Eastern Punjabi (26,013,000). This total is based on new figures in the 15th edition.
Note 3: Ethnologue gives an estimate of 59 million for Turkish.
Note 4: Ethnologue estimates 37 million for Italian. It limits its definition of Italian to the standard language and considers Venetian, Sicilian etc. to be separate languages.
Note 5: Ethnologue splits Persian (Farsi) into two languages: Eastern Farsi (7 million) and Western Farsi (24.28 million).
Note 6: Azerbaijani is split by Ethnologue into North Azerbaijani (about 7 mln. speakers) and South Azerbaijani (about 24.4 mln. speakers).
World Almanac estimates (2005)
The World Almanac 2005 estimates for first language speakers are as follows:
- Mandarin Chinese 874 million
- English 514 million
- Hindustani 496 million
- Spanish 425 million
- Russian 275 million
- Arabic 256 million
- Bengali 215 million
- Portuguese 194 million
- Malay/Indonesian 176 million
- French 129 million
CIA World Factbook estimates (2000)
The CIA World Factbook provides the following estimates of "first language" speakers for the year 2000 (percentage of world population; CIA's 2000 estimate for world population was 6.081 billion ).
- Chinese, Mandarin 14.37% (874 million)
- Hindi 6.02% (366 million)
- English 5.61% (341 million)
- Spanish 5.59% (339 million)
- Bengali 3.4% (207 million)
- Portuguese 2.75% (167 million)
- Russian 2.63% (160 million)
- Japanese 2.06% (125 million)
- German, Standard 1.64% (100 million)
- Korean 1.28% (78 million)
- French 1.27% (77 million)
Source: CIA - The World Factbook -- World
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