The 25 Most Influential Languages in the World

Posted by on February 20, 2012

If any of you have ever tried learning a foreign language you know that the hardest step is often the first – choosing which one. There are over 6,000 languages in use today and roughly 30% are spoken by 1,000 people or less. So, to make your job easier, in this list we are ranking the 25 most influential languages in the world. Keep in mind, however, that some languages with relatively few speakers (like Italian) will outrank languages with hundreds of millions of speakers (like Bengali). This is because the rankings are not just done according to how many people speak the language. Of course this is taken into consideration but so is how many people speak it as a second language, its impact on global commerce and trade, and its lingua franca status around the world.


25

Korean

Although it is spoken by almost 80 million people in North Korea, South Korea, and China, it has not achieved a significant level of influence beyond the borders of the Korean Peninsula. It is also one of the hardest languages for foreigners to learn and the U.S. government classifies it as a category IV language along with Arabic and Japanese. This means that it requires at least 63 weeks of instruction to achieve a workable level of fluency as opposed to only 25 weeks for Spanish or French.

24

Cantonese

Despite having only 1/20th the number of the speakers as its counterpart (60 million), Cantonese has a much more global reach than Mandarin. Not only is it spoken in southern China and Hong Kong, but also in Chinese communities around the world.

23

Thai

While it is technically spoken by around 25 million people, the official language of Thailand has a number of mutually intelligible dialects that brings the total number of speakers to around 60 million.

22

Punjabi

With approximately 90 million speakers Punjabi is the 10th most spoken language in the world and although it is the primary language of the Indian state of Punjab most of its 90 million speakers reside in Pakistan. As far as having global influence, Punjabi hardly compares to some of the other languages on this list but with so many speakers it was bound to end up here somewhere.

21

Javanese

Not to be confused with Japanese, Javanese is also the primary language of an eastern Asian island. Java, found in Indonesia, is the worlds most populous island which gives Javanese a total number of native speakers numbering close to 90 million.