What Are The Most Popular Languages In The World?

With the latest count showing over 7,000 recorded languages of the world, it’s a bit surprising to learn that most people actually speak one of 23 languages. Of course, a few speak more than one from this narrowed down list of 23, since bilingualism and multilingualism are also becoming more prevalent. This leads to the question: what are the most popular languages in the world?

Consistently, the most popular languages in the world are English, Mandarin Chinese, Spanish, and French, according to the majority of language polls and research. Yet, trends also show that languages such as Arabic are rising in popularity on most spoken and/or studied lists.

As a language teacher for almost 20 years, I’ve been particularly interested in how language is best learned as well as what makes certain languages more popular than others. Below I’ve taken a look at some of the most popular languages of the world and specific impacts this has on different aspects of life such as study, speaking, and career choices.

What Makes a Language Most Popular Around the World?

When thinking about what makes a language most popular around the world we have to first consider the term, popular. Merriam-Webster provides three meanings that work well for our purposes here:

  1. of or relating to the general public
  2. suitable to the majority
  3. frequently encountered or widely accepted

With this in mind, we are better able to move forward with understanding what makes a language popular, that is, what makes it used or widely accepted by the majority of the general public.

The greatest number of people speaking or studying a language causes it to rank most popular in the world. There are factors pushing a language to be most spoken or studied, too: the number of countries using it and its population; the influence of the business world; and its standing in education.

What this means is that popularity depends on the lens you’re looking through. It could be what’s most popular to speak in the world; it could also mean what language is most popular to study in the world.

We can also look at this even more categorically, like what language is most popular in the world for business, for arts, for entertainment, for education and so on.

For our purposes in this article, we’ll focus on some of the most consistently ranked popular languages (according to total speakers which includes native and non-native peoples).

We’ll tackle English, Mandarin Chinese, Spanish, and French, in their common hierarchical order; where and why they are popular; and some tips for learning, teaching, or using these languages. As well, we’ll look at a rising popular language, Arabic, and some specifics about it.

Is English the Most Popular in the World?

It’s interesting to hear people around the world speaking English because of the various international accents and expressions; however, it is also a concrete example showing just how popular the English language really is.

English generally tops the list of popular languages, whether we’re talking about native speakers, non-native studiers of English, or the total of all speakers fluent in English. If it’s not number one, English is safely within the top 5, regardless of which poll or research list referenced. How is English popular?

English is generally listed as the most popular language in the world. With over 1.1 billion total speakers, English is spoken by over 15% of the world’s population. As well, English is globally used in both entertainment and business, making it a popular language to know in more ways than one.

Next, let’s look into where exactly English is most popular for speaking and studying, and popular tips for learning or teaching English.

Where Exactly is English Most Popular to Speak?

Often Americans are accused of egocentrism when it comes to their English pride and expectation that no matter where they go in the world, they’ll be able to converse in English. Is that true, though? Where exactly is English most popular to speak?

The US is most popular for speaking English having the highest percentage at 95 and the largest total English speakers. Only 12 percent of India speak English, but it ranks second on the list for most speakers. Other places popular for English are Pakistan, Nigeria, and as expected UK and Australia.

In total, there are 67 nations with English listed as a primary language and well over a billion speakers of English, both native and non-native. This does make it likely for Americans, and other native English speakers, to find it easier to travel around the world and still be able to speak English.

Specifically though you are more likely to find fluent English speakers in areas with the highest percentage knowing English, not necessarily the largest number of speakers. For example, India may rank at the second most popular place for English, but 98% of those in the UK speak English (though the UK ranks 6th on the list).

Countries with 90% or more of the population fluent in English:

  • United States
  • United Kingdom (made up of England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland)
  • Australia
  • Norway
  • Netherlands
  • New Zealand
  • Jamaica
  • Bermuda
  • And a few close others, such as Canada, Israel, and Sweden, all in the 80 percentile

Where is it Popular to Study English?

Countries promote English for business, economic, and policy making. It’s not debatable that English speaking countries do better globally, as English is such a force in powerful positions. According to the English Proficiency Index (EPI), there are a few countries outperforming others in English as a second language instruction.

First, English is most popularly studied in traditional school settings. English is formally taught as a second language more than any other language in the world. And with over a billion non-native English speakers, it seems studying English is as successful as it is popular.

As mentioned above, the EPI releases an annual list ranking countries based on student scores on their well-regarded , international English proficiency test. Here are the results as of 2020: Nordic countries take the top 5!

  1. Netherlands
  2. Denmark
  3. Finland
  4. Sweden
  5. Norway
  6. Austria
  7. Portugal
  8. Germany
  9. Belgium
  10. Singapore

But if you are looking to study/learn English for yourself, the best way (which we’ll look at again in the TIPS section) is to move to a native English speaking country and learn through immersion, rather than study English in an non-native country.

Most Popular Tips for Teaching English

As the most studied language in the world, it’s not surprising that a multitude of study tips, tricks, hacks, and suggestions, many with product promotions attached, tout the best, most popular methods for learning English. But really, what the most popular tips for teaching English to others?

The best, most popular tips for teaching English to others incorporate variety, focus, and feasibility. As well, the most popular tips are the ones that are most likely to support student motivation, too.

As a public K-12 through higher education teacher for almost two decades, I’ve spent a lot of time on how students learn. In addition, with a language specialty, I’ve also worked more than average teachers with students learning to speak English as a second or other language. These experiences have shaped my instruction tremendously.

Here are my top three most popular tips for teaching English:

  • Variety: With any instruction, regular routine is key but sometimes that means boring and unimaginative for learners. It’s important to utilize a variety of learning methods for teaching English and this is the most popular tip I have for you.
    • For example, technology offers many creative tools, but don’t just rely on apps and computer programs. Rather incorporate several tools along with tech such as interactive exercises, literature, film, and so on.
  • Focus: Focus keeps students motivated and that’s tip #2.
    • Establish goals for your student and make it a point to celebrate milestones.
    • As well, focus instruction based on your student’s needs. Does he or she need conversational skills or will they also need proficiency in reading and writing?
    • In addition to focusing on outcomes, you also want to focus your instruction on the student’s optimal learning style. Most learners are visual, but it’s important to target (focus) whatever works best for your particular case.
  • Feasibility: Feasibility is how easy and usable the instruction is. Making your instruction feasible for your learner is one of my most popular tips for teaching/learning English.
    • For instance, don’t assign complicated apps for your student to practice if he or she doesn’t have a Smartphone or tablet readily available.
    • Likewise, if your learner has a busy work schedule, it might not be feasible to meet face to face weekly or even bi-weekly. Instead utilize other options like phone conversation, zoom, or meeting at odd times.

For more on the English language, I recommend these articles:

Is Mandarin Chinese Popular?

Mandarin Chinese is frequently neck in neck with English as most popular on polls and research ranking lists. Often it tops the list of most popular, especially for native speaker lists.

But first, let’s step back to note why Mandarin is designated ‘a Chinese language.’ Mandarin is the official language of China with over 70 percent of the population fluent in it. However, Cantonese is another well-used Chinese language. Then there are several other Chinese dialects: Hunanese and Toisanese, for example. Now let’s get back to Mandarin Chinese.

Mandarin Chinese is popular in the world. Like English, there are over a billion speakers of Mandarin. Unlike English, most Mandarin speakers are native. More focus on China’s market for commerce and industry has caused a rise in popularity in learning Mandarin as a second language professionally.

Let’s look at how Mandarin’s popularity has impacted careers and the study of Mandarin. Then I’ll share what I have learned regarding popular tips for using Mandarin.

What Careers Consider Mandarin Chinese Most Popular to Know?

In the past, it wasn’t so popular to learn Mandarin Chinese as a second language. It’s rare for Americans to encounter the need to use Mandarin and because it is not regarded as an easy language for native English speakers, it didn’t have much appeal for the dabbler either.

Yet, what about today? Are there careers specifically for Mandarin speakers (outside of China, that is)?

There are definitely some careers specific for Mandarin Chinese fluency. From language instructors (English to Mandarin or Mandarin to English) to medical researchers to business and finance, it has become beneficial to speak Mandarin in today’s globally-minded world.

It is not uncommon to find areas of government, finance, education, and business to need Mandarin Chinese speakers. As well, it not easy to find outside of China. Thus, more and more young adults are looking to study Mandarin Chinese to boost their resumes and career opportunities.

Where is it Popular to Study Mandarin Chinese?

Studying Mandarin is not as prevalent as other popular languages, considering the large number of Mandarin speakers. Again, most Mandarin speakers are native-Chinese. However, the study of Mandarin has certainly risen in the past years and will continue to rise in response to demand.

Higher education is the most popular place for studying Mandarin as it is rare to find Mandarin instruction in K-12 outside of China. This was made easier in 2004 when the People’s Republic of China partnered with universities to promote Mandarin via Confucius Institutes set up all over the world.

The US Foreign Service Institute rates Mandarin (and Cantonese) as a Category IV “Super Hard” language for native English speakers to learn, taking an estimated 88 weeks and 2200 class hours for satisfactory fluency. So what are best practices for studying a language so unlike English?

Most Popular Tips for Using Mandarin Chinese

Some people take the plunge to learning Mandarin by moving to China where there’s no shortage of ways to use your new skill. But there are other, less drastic ways to learn and use Mandarin.

Mandarin has certainly risen in the number of students studying it outside of China as a second or foreign language. All those institutes have begun to pay off! It also got a big boost in attention when Facebook founder and CEO, Mark Zuckerberg gave a speech entirely in (imperfect) Mandarin while at a conference in Beijing. So what are some popular ways to put your Mandarin to use especially if you aren’t surrounded by a large Mandarin-speaking community?

The most popular tips for using your Mandarin as a second language require some creativity and determination. Conversing with online speakers, working with local schools and libraries, and creating a blog or vlog will provide necessary practice to keep you motivated in your newly learned language.

These three suggestions come from years of experience working with language learners, as well as experience in education in general. They are low or no cost; accessible for the majority of students; and accommodating for most schedules.

Let me explain a bit more on these popular tips for using Mandarin:

  • Online Speakers: Because it’s not likely to find many fluent in Mandarin around you, online speakers may be your best option. Of course, if you are close to a university or in a large urban area, it may be possible to find fluent tutors. If so, go for it! However, don’t be discouraged if you are like most and can’t. Instead take advantage of online speakers using language learning sites to post for tutors. My husband practiced German for years with an online partner! Our preferred method of finding online tutors is italki!
  • Local Community Establishments: Schools and libraries are great places to use your Mandarin. Once you gain confidence in your new skills, it is a wonderful use to share it and teach others. By volunteering at schools, libraries, or even churches, you will get to practice what you’ve learned and put your skills to a practical use.
  • Blogs/Vlogs: Creating a blog online (or videos) about your learning of Mandarin is another great way to put your new language to practice. It also will be an excellent tool to gauge your progress and memorialize your work.

For more about language learning, I recommend these articles:

Is Spanish Popular?

Even though Spanish originated from Spain, Spain does not have the most Spanish speakers. That spot is taken by Mexico, which has the largest Spanish speakers of any country in the world.

Let’s look at a source first to consider the answer to this question, ‘is Spanish popular?’. Ethnologue, for example, ranks Spanish as the second most popular native language and the fourth most popular language spoken altogether in terms of number of fluent speakers.

Spanish is in the top 5 of most popular language lists. Numbers vary depending on the source, but it’s estimated that 542 million people speak Spanish, combining native and non-native speakers. This seems highly popular from the speaking vantage point. However, Spanish is also popular in other ways.

Let’s look a moment at some other ways to determine if Spanish is popular.

  • Spanish music is popular all over the world, and gaining popularity in America. Forbes ranked it ahead of long-running Country music genre in sales for 2018-19 and Latin music streaming was most popular in 2018 on YouTube.
  • Spanish movies have gained momentum outside of Spanish-speaking countries, garnering the attention of Hollywood. Y Tu Mamá También (2001) is critically acclaimed and the more recent, Roma (2018), are two prominent Spanish-speaking film examples.
  • More video games have Spanish-language firsthand, rather than just an option in settings. Halo 3 is one such game, demonstrating another way Spanish is popular.

Where is it Most Popular to Speak Spanish?

Spanish is the official language of 21 countries and several territories, such as Puerto Rico, according to Nations Online. Mexico ranks as the country with the most Spanish speakers. And according to one 2015 report, the United States now ranks second for most Spanish speakers concentrated in one country, with Columbia, Argentina and then Spain following.

Spanish is most popular in Mexico, but the United States has risen in Spanish speakers to take the number two spot, with Colombia and Spain right behind. Specifically within the US, Spanish is most popular in urban cities such as New York City and Los Angeles, as well as areas of the southwest.

Yet, to be clear, Spanish speaking has grown in popularity all over the United States. Though Spanish speakers have traditionally chosen large urban cities with many job opportunities, which is why New York City and Los Angeles have the highest US concentration of Spanish speakers even now, it is more and more common to encounter Spanish in the south and Midwest, too.

Outside of the US there are some surprising places where Spanish speaking is growing, too. For instance, Toronto, Canada has a growing population of Spanish speakers. And the African nation, Equatorial Guinea, boasts a population with almost 68% speaking Spanish!

Popular to Study Spanish?

In the United States, Spanish has consistently been the most taught foreign language in schools (and thus, studied…although as a teacher I know that just teaching a subject doesn’t mean your students are actually studying it!).

Spanish is indisputably popular to study in the US. In all areas of education from preschool to college, more students study Spanish than any other foreign language. As well, Spanish is the first choice for most adults looking to learn a new language.

As well, in the past decade, it has become more popular for schools to teach bilingually. This means half the day’s instruction is in English and the other half is in another language.

For most US public school programs, Spanish is the language of preference due to the large percentage of students from Spanish-speaking families that call the United States ‘home’. Though sometimes French or German has the distinction for dual instruction.

In addition to Spanish popularity in US PreK-12 education, Spanish is also decidedly popular in higher education. According to the Modern Language Association (MLA), Spanish is the most studied language in US colleges and universities, with 50% of college students choosing to learn Spanish for their foreign language choice.

As well, in the US, Spanish is the number one second or foreign language studied outside of a school setting. Adults in America looking to learn another language overwhelmingly select Spanish for study.

Most Popular Tips for Learning Spanish

With today’s modern technology and accessibility of free or low-cost internet choices, it’s made learning another language easier. And with Spanish being so popular, there are many practical as well as innovative options tailored just for it.

Because learning Spanish is so in demand, much effort has also been given to figuring out what works best for grasping it. The three most popular tips for learning Spanish are immersion, telenovelas, and simply interacting with local Spanish speakers.

These are the best, simplest ways to implement the tips I’ve discovered from my work with ESL students over the years:

  • Immersion: The absolute best tip I can give you is to immerse yourself in Spanish as much as possible.
    • From media and entertainment to simply using Spanish for your daily needs whenever possible, this will provide you the best method for acquiring another language. In fact, the other two tips are ways to support immersion.
  • Spanish Telenovelas: Spanish tv dramas are particularly helpful for learning the language. Even though it goes along with immersion techniques, it deserves its own spot as a ‘tip.’
    • Because of the simplified vocabulary, dramatic expressions, and current slang, it will help you start conversing en Español right away! They’re also quite addictive and fun to watch so it won’t be too difficult to put this into your immersive Spanish life!
  • Local Spanish Community: Another easy way to immerse yourself and boost your Spanish skills is to participate in your local places where Spanish is probably.
    • Some suggestions: Try out some fast food spots or Mexican restaurants and practice your Spanish. If you live in a larger city, you are also more likely to find Mexican markets or other events where Spanish speakers patron.

For more on Spanish, I recommend these articles:

Is French Most Popular in Europe?

France isn’t the only country in Europe with French as the official language or that has a large French-speaking population. You can put your French to good use in Belgium, Luxembourg, Switzerland, and Monaco, too.

French like Spanish is a Romance language with a long history. As such, the French language has influenced much of the English language, sharing many common words. However, it’s not the most popular language in Europe. That honor goes to English.

French is not the most popular language in Europe. With 29% of the EU speaking French, it comes in as third most popular in fact. However, recent efforts by French politicians to push French to be used more frequently may in eventually result in French rising in popularity. Time will tell.

Yet, French is quite popular in the world. With French the official language of 29 countries, the French language has certainly made its mark. From France and Monaco to Algeria and Cameroon to Canada and Haiti, French is spoken by over 250 million people as their primary language. This number rises when factoring in those who speak French fluently as a second/foreign language.

Popular to Speak French?

Many consider French one of the most beautiful languages of the world to hear, which would contribute to it being popular to speak. French has often been called ‘the language of love.’ As well, as mentioned above, French is the official language of 29 countries, including most of Africa, so that too makes it popular to speak.

Yes, French is popular to speak. There are over 250 million people speaking French as a native and at least 25 million more non-native French speakers in the world. French is a strong presence in global business and politics, and the primary language throughout Africa, solidifying its popularity.

Let’s look next at how the French language stacks up in terms of study and what tips are most popular for learning it.

Where is it Popular to Study French?

The French language shares many of the same places as Spanish for study, but is also unique is some aspects. Where precisely is it popular to study French?

French is widely studied both in the United States and around the world, as its studied in every country. Students study French as a second language in public and private education, but also French is popular for adults to study outside of school for both personal and professional reasons.

Other than English, French is the only other language distinguished as being taught/studied in every country of the world. Since French is a ‘working language’ of the United Nations, European Union, and other international businesses and entities such as the International Red Cross, it is often studied by adults for professional reasons.

French President, Emmanuel Macron, actively works to promote French speaking around the world, particularly in the growing countries of Africa.

Emmanuel Macron, who was elected president of France in 2017, constructed an active, and somewhat controversial, campaign to promote the French language. As part of his efforts, Macron opened more schools for studying French as a second language outside of France, as well as increased the number of foreign exchange students coming to France (in order to promote French).

Besides these efforts for making studying French popular, there are other more passive incentives for studying French. For example, France is the most visited country in the world, making studying the French language popular among travelers and tourists. Even if the French fluency is limited, travelers are apt to want to pick up some basic French.

As well, the French film industry is second only to Hollywood, and enjoys much critical acclaim from the Foreign Press Association. This is prone to making studying French more appealing to movie buffs, in lieu of other languages.

Most Popular Tips for Learning French

As someone who’s worked with students learning English as a second language, I’m happy to share best practices or tips to help make language learning more fruitful. I’ve learned several that are universal, no matter which language being targeted. But also, using my expertise in as a language specialist, I’ve been able to zero in on recommendations for specific languages, like what works best for studying French.

Because many language learning methods are universal, there are similar tips popular for learning Spanish, French, English and so on. Yet, some work particularly well for learning French. Learning French through French films, French travel, and French food are popular tips tailored for French.

Let’s dive deeper into these French areas that are particularly helpful when learning the language:

  • French Films: This popular tip includes both film and tv. Because the French film industry is so popular itself, there is a plethora of movie/tv French language options.
    • Note: You’re not having to change settings for this; you can find high-quality material that can both entertain you, as well as support your language learning goals.
  • French Travel: France is well-documented as the most popular travel/tourist destination in the entire world.
    • That means you just may be one of those lucky people to visit France in your lifetime. If so, use this incentive to motivate you for learning French.
    • As well, maybe you use this knowledge as a push to go ahead and plan a French vacation in the first place. Since the whole country of France is so popular for travelers, it’s obviously well-prepared to accommodate tourists whether you decide to stay in Paris, Toulouse, or Nice! Bon Voyage!
  • French Food: French cuisine is indisputably one of the richest, most delicious you’ll ever taste. From buttery croissants to delicate eclairs to scrumptious, savory beef bourguignon, enjoying French food regularly is probably the best, most popular tip for learning French.
    • You’ll have fun learning French vocabulary by using a French recipe cookbook like Julia Child’s famous Mastering the Art of French Cooking
    • You can also pick up some French food-related vocab with Jacques Pépin videos as he demonstrates world-class French cooking.
Even though you can find Jacques Pepin, famous renowned French chef, instructional cooking videos in English. His French accent, and delicious recipes, are bound to inspire you! You can find French options of Pepin, too!

For more on the French language, I recommend these articles:

Is Arabic Becoming Popular in the World?

It may or may not be surprising to learn that Arabic is becoming popular in the world, depending on your location and perspective. As an ESL teacher for many years, I noticed a growing trend of Arabic speaking ESL students over my years in education. From none in my early days in the late 90s to more than half of my ESL students coming from Arabic backgrounds more recently.

From improvements in travel to advances in technology to changes in political structures of government, Arabic speaking has risen in popularity globally. With this change of Arabic speakers outside of the Middle East and northern Africa, the expectation is that Arabic will continue to increase.

This increase leads to more questions such as where is Arabic most popular, where is it growing the fastest, how popular is it to study, and what are recommended tips for learning Arabic. I’ll share in the next sections, concluding a look at most popular languages in the world.

Where is Arabic Most Popularly Used?

Arabic has traditionally been popular in Middle Eastern countries and northern Africa, and remains so today. Though Amharic and Farsi are sometimes primary languages for natives in these areas, Arabic is most popular.

Arabic is most widely spoken in Egypt with over 100 million speakers. Algeria, Sudan, Iraq, and Morocco round out the top 5 countries with the most Arabic speakers. As economies and politics fluctuate in these areas, the need for outside Arabic speakers has increased.

As more demand comes for Arabic speakers, it’s important to consider its popularity for study. And in relation to that, knowing most popular tips for learning Arabic is useful.

Is Arabic Popular to Study?

Though other languages may be more popular to study such as English, Spanish, or French, like Mandarin, current world issues have resulted in a demand for non-natives to learn Arabic. Is Arabic actually popular to study though?

Most assuredly the study of Arabic has gained popularity in the last decade. From its various calligraphic forms to the many dialects and its rich history, more people consider Arabic exotic and interesting to study, as well as professionally profitable, making it newly popular indeed.

Now let’s look at some tips that are popular for learning Arabic:

Most Popular Tips for Learning Arabic

Because Arabic is considered another challenging language for native English speakers, it’s critical to be aware of best practices and tips for study. Otherwise, motivation is likely to diminish. What are the most popular tips for learning Arabic then?

Studying Arabic requires strategic plan for most native English speakers. The most popular tips are staying focused, planning ahead, and finding practical ways for immersion.

Let’s look a bit closer at the most popular tips I’ve learned for Arabic:

  • Focus: Like mentioned in other languages, it’s important to maintain your focus for studying Arabic. Especially since Arabic has different forms for reading and writing than for speaking, you need to be focused on your purpose.
  • Planning Ahead: Because Arabic is not as widely known in English speaking countries, there is less opportunity for materials. You need to plan ahead for your curriculum needs including materials to us.
  • Immersion: Immersion is the best way to learn a language. However, that is more difficult for Arabic outside of native-speaking Arabic nations. But don’t get discouraged! It’s still possible to incorporate Arabic in your daily life- just plan ahead and yes, stay focused! Your best resource will be the internet.

Here are more articles I highly recommend for further reading about language learning:

The Final Talking Point About Most Popular Languages of the World

So let’s quickly recap now that we’re at the final talking point on most popular languages of the world! First, it’s important to keep in mind that rankings are continually changing as language learning (and the world) is not stagnant. As well, remember that often lists are referring to different things in regard to popularity. Be sure to pay attention to what’s really being ranked or listed.

In short, our list for most popular languages of the world ranks it like this:

  1. English
  2. Mandarin
  3. Spanish
  4. French
  5. Arabic

I hope the approach proved useful for you and that you are encouraged in your language journey!

Additional Sources:

Jackie Booe

Jackie Booe is a licensed teacher for elementary through high school in 3 states. She is a former adjunct professor at the undergraduate level and certified to teach elementary, secondary English, and English Language Learners. She was a mentor for many education interns, department leader at various levels and organizations, has taught and coordinated professional development for teachers and educators, and professionally tutored in a multitude of subjects.

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