Being able to speak more than one language is an invaluable skill to have. And while some are more widely spoken and better known than others, every language is unique and opens us up to new cultures and perspectives.
Luckily, with new resources like Duolingo and Mondly that offer free learning resources, all it takes is five minutes a day to start familiarising yourself with a new language. It’s never been more simple and stress-free.
With this in mind, we’ve put together a list of nine of the most widely spoken languages to consider learning.
1. Mandarin Chinese
With over one billion Mandarin Chinese speakers in the world, this language naturally features on the list of the most widely spoken languages in the world.
Although the majority of Mandarin speakers live in China, there are other countries where it’s also spoken. These include Malaysia, Singapore, Taiwan, the Philippines, Thailand, and Indonesia.
Chinese culture and history is one of the oldest and richest in the world, renowned for its beautiful novels, poetry, short stories – and excellent films in more recent years. Being able to read and watch these works in Mandarin is a powerful – and unparalleled – way to understand, appreciate, and fully connect with Chinese culture.
Another bonus of learning Mandarin is that it’s easier than you may think. Interestingly, the language has no verb conjugations, no plurals, and no tenses. For example, verbs like ‘walk’ can be used when referring to the past, present, and future. And while there are around 80,000 Chinese characters, only 3,500 are generally used in conversation.
Chinese symbols and characters also require a steady hand, so it’s likely that you’ll likely brush up on your artistic skills while learning too.
And from a career perspective, there are significant benefits to learning Mandarin. As China continues to emerge as a global power, it’s becoming increasingly important for businesses to lean on team members who can speak Mandarin.
For centuries, French was the world’s international diplomatic language. It was only around 1898 following the rise of America as a global power, that English began to overtake French as the language of diplomacy.
Many of us learnt French at school, though it’s common for this knowledge to fade over time if not practiced frequently. But wouldn’t it be nice to be able to get beyond a simple ‘bonjour’ or ‘s’il vous plait’?
There are many benefits of learning French, including its renowned attractiveness as the ‘language of love’. Plus, while people tend to associate the French language with France alone, it’s actually spoken in various other countries across the world including Belgium, Switzerland, and Canada. French is also the official language of many countries in Africa.
As the international language of food, theatre, fashion, dance, and architecture, a knowledge of French allows us to appreciate many cultural masterpieces in their native language. After all, French was the language of renowned figures like writer Victor Hugo, actor and playwright Moliere, and poet and politician Leopold Sedar Senghor.
So if you’re ready to dive into French culture and extend your knowledge beyond a simple ‘Bonjour’, why not start learning the language of love today?
There are currently around 268 million Bengali speakers, making it the sixth most spoken language in the world. It’s the official language of Bangladesh, and the second most -spoken language in India.
However, despite its reach, Bengali is studied significantly less than other major languages around the world. As a result, it can sometimes be tricky to track down learning materials for it – so studying it will definitely make you stand out from the crowd. And with so many speakers, you shouldn’t have any trouble finding other people to practice with.
As with other languages that have their own alphabet, Bengali may seem a bit intimidating to begin with. However, while it may take some getting used to, the language is not as hard to learn as you might think. For example, unlike many European languages, there are no categories based on gender in Bengali, and the verb system is fairly simple.
In addition, the language is also a pathway to Bengali culture, which is full of thrilling literature, exciting films, beautiful music, and art.
Generally speaking, Spanish is one of the best languages to learn for travel. There are currently around 543 million Spanish speakers across the world and it’s one of the six official languages of the United Nations, as well as the third most spoken language in the media.
A beautiful language to listen to, it’s fitting that Spanish is the native language of some of the most beautiful countries in the world. If you’re thinking of travelling to Central or South America specifically, then Spanish is definitely worth learning. The majority of Spanish speaking countries are found here, many full of stunning views and iconic landmarks. From Argentina and Columbia, to Mexico and Peru, knowing some Spanish will undoubtedly boost your experience in these countries and allow you to engage with more people.
Another major benefit of learning Spanish is the access that you’ll gain to the impressive world of Hispanic culture. Being able to watch classic films or reading literature from figures like Gabriel Garcia Marquez in their natural language allows for a significantly deeper insight than translated versions.
And while art doesn’t exactly have its own language, knowing Spanish will allow you to better understand the minds of artistic legends like Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dali.
At present, there are around 135 million German speakers across the world. Aside from Germany itself, German is the official language of Austria, Luxembourg, Switzerland, and Liechtenstein, and is also spoken in other countries like Russia, Romania, and eastern France. German may not be the first language many people consider learning, but there are many reasons why it should be.
For example, German comes from the same language family as English – both are ‘West Germanic languages’. In fact, over 26% of English vocabulary shares its roots with German, including grammar and vocabulary structure. As a result, English speakers generally have an easier time learning German than say, French and Spanish speakers (and it’s actually classed as one of the easiest languages to learn for English speakers).
Equally, if you’re into art and music, learning German can connect you with some of the world’s most famous innovators including the likes of Beethoven, Mozart, Freud, and Nietzsche. And if that’s not enough, German was also the language of Albert Einstein, Sigmund Freud, and Max Planck.
Germany is also home to many breathtaking cities that are worth a visit, most notably Berlin, Munich, and Hamburg.
Arabic is part of the Semitic language family, which also includes Aramaic, Phoenician, and Hebrew. It has a deep history with origins in the 1st and 4th centuries. It began to spread to the Middle East, North Africa, Central and Western Asia, and some parts of China in the 7th century during the Islamic conquests.
There are currently 25 Arab speaking countries, and Arabic is spoken by around 466 million people. Native speakers have their own colloquial versions, and throughout the Arab speaking regions there are up to 30 different dialects. However, it’s Modern Standard Arabic, that’s taught across all levels of education.
Arabic can initially seem intimidating to learn, largely because it has its own alphabet. However, it’s definitely worth the effort. Arabic is a fascinating language with a rich history – even the Arabic alphabet itself, which contains 18 shapes expressing 28 phonetic sounds, can take you on a journey back in time.
Plus, since it’s the primary language of commerce and business, Arabic speakers are in high demand. And because it shares similar grammatical constructions and semantics with other languages, it can be a useful stepping stone to learning languages like Persian, Turkish, Urdu, and Hebrew.
Lastly, the language is essential to understanding Arab culture and engaging with the world’s second-largest religion – Islam.
Russia is a top sports and travel destination, and with Russian being the most widely spoken language in Europe, it’s a useful language to learn. However, if you’ve ever asked a person about their experience of learning Russian, you’ll often be met with the same answer: it’s difficult.
However, while the unique-looking letters of the Cyrillic alphabet might seem a little intimidating, Russian is well worth learning. For starters, it’s spoken in various countries around the world aside from Russia, including Ukraine, Belarus, Estonia, Latvia, and Israel, and is also the second language of many people living in Eastern Europe.
In addition, any trip to Russia would be significantly boosted by knowing some of the language, as Russia has some of the lowest rates of English proficiency in the world. Interestingly, only around 5% of Russians have knowledge of English, and you’ll be hard pressed to find any signs written in the Latin alphabet in the majority of Russian cities.
So while it’s a tricky language to learn, who doesn’t like a challenge? If you’re hoping to get to grips with the Russian language, you might like to have a read of this guide to Learning the Cyrillic Alphabet in only 2 Days.
Portuguese is often associated with Portugal and Brazil alone. But it’s actually the official language of many other countries in Europe, South America, Africa, and Asia too, including Angola, Cape Verde, and Mozambique. Portuguese is also widely spoken in Sri Lanka, India, Goa, and China. In total, there are currently around 258 million native Portuguese speakers in the world.
However, despite being the ninth most widely spoken language in the world, Portuguese tends to be studied significantly less than others like French and Spanish. But the good news is that if you have knowledge of any other romance language like Spanish, French, or Italian, you’ll already have a leg up in Portuguese, and vice versa. Since these languages share similar origins, there’s a natural overlap in their vocabulary, pronunciation, and grammar.
Portuguese is an attractive language and learning it can set you apart from having the more popular French and Spanish as your second language. Plus, with Brazil quickly developing as one of the world’s newest economic powerhouses, increased tourism currently means that there’s a higher demand for Portuguese speakers.
If you’re looking to learn a language that’s prevalent in south-east Asia, then Hindi is a great option. Hindi is currently the third most widely spoken language in the world, with around 600 million speakers. It’s also the most commonly spoken language in India.
Unlike English, Hindi is a phonetic language which means that the words are pronounced just as they are written down. As a result, it’s usually a case of learning the Hindi alphabet and how each letter sounds, as this will allow you to pronounce any word that you come across. Generally speaking, phonetic languages can be quicker to learn as developing your vocabulary is significantly easier than non-phonetic languages.
Interestingly – and perhaps surprisingly – there are plenty of familiar English words in the Hindi language. Many English words, like hospital, car, cricket, and bus have all made their way into the language. However, while these words are pronounced the same, they are written differently in Hindi.
Another benefit of learning Hindi is that since it’s spoken form is so similar to Urdu (the official language of Pakistan, and widely recognised language in India) you can begin to learn two languages for the price of one.
Learning a new language is a great way to connect with new people, immerse yourself in different cultures, and take travelling to a whole new level. The process can also bring a range of health benefits, including enhanced brain power, delayed dementia symptoms, and improved confidence.
Plus, with new resources like Duolingo and Mondly that offer quick and simple lessons for free, learning a language has never been easier.
To learn more about the benefits of learning a language and inspiration on how to get started, have a read of our article The benefits of learning a new language.