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.

20

Polish

As the second most widely spoken Slavic language after Russian, Polish speakers stand at about 46 million strong. Although there are numerous communities of Polish speakers living abroad, Polish is not nearly as influential a language as some of its other European counterparts.

19

Vietnamese

Spoken by roughly 90 million people, Vietnamese doesn’t rank any higher due to the fact that it is used almost exclusively in Vietnam. The language has, however, begun to propagate beyond the country’s borders as immigrants take it with them to Europe and America.

18

Turkish

As the language of the most dominant power in the Middle East and one of the largest economies in the world, Turkish is spoken by 83 million people primarily in Turkey but also in various regions around Central Asia.

17

Bengali

With over 200 million speakers, Bengali is the sixth most spoken language in the world. The only reason it is so far behind the other 5 (who rank much higher on this list) is because it is primarily spoken in only one very small geographical region – the extremely densely populated country of Bangladesh.

16

Dutch/Africaans

With a total of around 50 million speakers, the mutually intelligible languages of Dutch and Africaans (Africaans is a daughter language spoken in South Africa that formed out of Dutch dialects) find significant usage everywhere from Europe to South America to Indonesia.

15

Italian

In the European Union it has 65 million speakers but if you count the numerous regions abroad where it is spoken as a second language then the number gets closer to 90 million. Of note, it is the official language of the Vatican and carries considerable weight in the worlds of music (particularly opera), international sports, and design/fashion.

14

Tamil

Spoken primarily in several southern Indian states, Tamil also holds official language status in Sri Lanka and Singapore. It is one the oldest languages still in use today and has around 80 million total speakers.

13

Swahili

Used extensively along the east coast of Africa as the language of trade, Swahili has upwards of 100 million speakers (only a small portion are native) and is the official language of several countries. It’s influence is steadily growing and many major international news outlets now feature Swahili language broadcasts.

12

Farsi (Persian)

With over a hundred million speakers, Farsi holds official status in Iran, Afghanistan, and Tajikistan and has a long history of being regarded as a “prestigious cultural language” throughout Central Asia.

11

Malay

In Malaysia its known as Malaysian while in Indonesia it is known as Indonesian. Although the nomenclature can get a bit confusing, Malay as a whole is spoken in numerous countries throughout the region accounting for hundreds of millions of speakers.

David Pegg

About

After helping found the United Nations, the United States, and United Airlines, David consigned himself to a transient life of writing lists and sleeping on park benches.

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  • Java Moccachino

    Well, Many Indonesians are not speaking Dutch anymore nowadays… If they are exist, it’s only for 70+ years old of age… AND, Indonesian speaks Indonesian, Malaysian speaks Malaysian. Indonesian language are based on Malay Language from the Kingdom of Riau (One of the province in Sumatra island – it lays near Singapore). Indonesian language has it’s own different linguistics system. And for your information, Javanese is also widely spoken in Suriname.

  • 나는 한국인이다.

    25위구나 ㅋㅋㅋㅋㅋㅋㅋㅋㅋㅋ 맨 꼴찌네

  • http://www.dahranwala.tk Haseeb

    Punjabis rocking punjabi number kuteooo

  • harinarayanan

    Tamilandaaaaaaa

  • Pipo

    Well here is a recent study done by the British Council: http://www.britishcouncil.org/organisation/publications/languages-future
    Regards.

  • Ram

    How come Tamil is ranked above Italian. I don’t understand , I want to know the reason.

  • K

    This list is horribly biased lol.

    • http://Www.maska.com Shetty

      Top mentioned details totally wrong
      What about English, Hindi, Arabic

      • Ram

        Go to next page

  • Shinobi Kawasaki

    What about Arabic ! not so bad although the difficulty you mentioned above I do think that it will surpass French language in some decades. You may ask : Why !!!!!
    Simple reason : Climate change hence wealth transfer to the Arabic zone,
    Actually Arabic is the second spoken language in France !!!! yet local authorities deny it
    Egyptians don’t speak French at all ! even in North Africa, the French language is challenged by English as learners are continuously interested in mastering a business language.
    Spanish is deemed to be the second worldwide “Lingua franca ” and seems to me more influential than French language.
    In brief, information update is needed to give a real language ranking

  • Marcos K.

    No one willing to learn a foreign language to have a second language to resort to in business or personal life should ever try to learn a language that is spoken from the throat or with fancy movements of the tongue. If you live in Asia, I think the wisest thing to do is to learn Japanese, because it has syllables and not just moanings like ugly Chinese. No one in healthy sanity should learn Chinese, unless you always wanted to growl with your cat. Chinese is ugly, cryptic and they have the cross-cultural flexibility of a marble block.

    • João

      Are you like a crazy person?

    • will

      Are you racist or what?

    • Timothy Edwards

      Chinese (Mandarine) is not “ugly” or “cryptic”, it’s just more difficult to pronounce and write and make sense of it. It’s an ancient language and its pronunciation is perfect and simply just more advanced than other languages. People can’t pick it up is only because they are not used to those kind of pronunciation. But people from China and other countries that speak Chinese are WAY more than Japanese. It’s a totally different kind of language, and it’s worthy to learn it. And your statement just infuriate those people who speak Chinese. Moaning? Ugly Chinese? You suck.

  • buddy

    as you have stated that size of people doesn’t matter I would just like to give a suggestion for the language Sanskrit. It is much more influential language than any other.

  • reg

    I hate when people confuse Latin america with south america both concepts are different,south america includes non Latin countries like Guyana and Suriname it is a geographical region ,while Latin america is a cultural concept more global ,cuz 120 million Mexicans and the 9 Spanish speaking countries in central america and the Caribbean are not represented when you say south america !!!!

  • Atila turksoy

    please check carefully iranian spoken languages.
    there are 35 milion turkish people in iran mostly Azarbayjanies&7milion kurdish@2milion Arabs@3milion Baloochs and other non-farsi spoken people
    there are 20 milion farsi spoken in iran.
    2/3 of afghanies are not farsi
    please subtract them from farsi language

    • Ashkan

      where do you live in Iran that you have this opinion ? As I know majority of people who live in iran know to speak farsi ! even if they can speak other languages ! here they are showing the power of each language for communication ! it means of you know farsy you can speak somehow with near 100 million people .

      good luck

  • SATYAM

    TELUGU IS SWEETEST AND MOST INFLUENCE LANGUAGE IN WORLD, ITS RANK IN SPEAKING IS 17TH ON THE WORLD WIDE. IN SOUTH INDIA TELUGU IS THE MOST SPEAKING LANGUAGE, IN INDIA IT IS 3RD MAJOR LANGUAGE. PLEASE REFER AND RECTIFY YOUR VIEWS. PLEASE DON’T MISS LEAD THE VIEWERS WITH HALF KNOWLEDGE MATTER. TELUGU HAS GIVEN ALPHABETS TO 3 LANGUAGES IN INDIA, TELUGU ALSO USED IN SINGAPORE, MALAYSIA, INDONESIA, SRI LANKA. ITS AN ANCIENT LANGUAGE OF INDIA, IT IS VERY FLEXIBLE, DURABLE LANGUAGE TOO.

    • Ant hula

      There is no Telugu in Srilanka or Singapore or Malaysia. Don’t day dream.

      • Ant hula

        I am a Malaysian living in Srilanka I never heard a language called Telugu in any of the above countries or indeed in Singapore.

    • Ram

      This list is all about influence, and Telugu has no influence whatsoever outside AP. Even Hindi with 10 times more speakers than Telugu is only at no.10. And Telugu is spoken in the countries u have mentioned, but only by Telugu people who have migrated from AP.

  • JC

    The map for Malay is inaccurate because Malay is part of the minority for speakers in the Philippines. Tagalog and many other dialects are widely spoken, and it should not be considered a Malay speaking country.

    • starlightshimmers

      You’re right, in fact Spanish and English has more relevance in the Philippine heritage than Malay. Filipinos used to speak Old Malay as a form of lingua franca, but Spanish took over that role starting in the 16th century and it was the language of the Filipino national movement lead by Jose Rizal in the 20th century.

  • BILL G

    The whole ranking is based on influence? You haven’t explained what kind of influence? How it is measured? You really expect us to believe a rank without any actual stats to go with it? There is lots of explaining to do. Mostly the data you used to produce the ranks!!! Variables, time period, types of influence, other measures…. A good start would be explaining why is Russian so high up? I can only see population size as argument. How can German and Portuguese be less influential than Russian? Look at how geographically confined Russian is. Still waiting to hear why this should be trusted….

  • marti

    kannada also famous language

    • Ant hula

      Even In Karnataka only 60 % speak Kannada as their first language.

    • Ram

      Even in Bangalore, the Kannada speaking population is only 38%. It’s a very good language, but has very little influence

  • Vijay

    Tamil is official language of mauritius too.. Some people from balochistan of pakistan, and moore, manipur of india and some parts of australian peoples speak tamil who are non migrant and permanent residents of those places..

  • ajay

    sanskrit is the most influential language in the world it is the mother of all the indo-european language family.

    • Vijay

      How many of them speaking sanskrit in the world, and how many of them speaking that as second lanuuage? Sanskrit is a dead language and that was not the mother language. Sanskrit was the language of domination. It was preached only to bhramins, thats the reason for its death.

    • http://non- Nih

      I think it’s the Germanic languages, English got many words – from today as the 3rd most speaked language, and it has as “second language” in most countries, – from Germanic, many words in German used in English or derived, of other Germanic-language is Danish/old Danish as (what we know of nowadays) was the one who had the first runes which all Germanic countries used back then, they all speaked Donsk Tunga in a long period which became Ænglisc.

      Else i would say Latin or some other i can’t remember right now, because you -as person- don’t speak much about that language/writing form.

  • wypok

    A nie ma polskiego?

  • Win

    Language is the best blessing from the Creator. But it is very amazing that according to Bible, human being has come to this earth only less than 10000 years ago ( I have forgotten the exact time). Within this short time, approximately 7000 languages have been created! So, about 1 language has been created per year!

    • nes.

      I think you just pointed out how irrational the bible is.

      • Real

        No. He just pointed how irrational ideas he has.