Let’s face it: this is not as easy to answer as it may look at a glance.
How do we define what is a language and on the other hand merely a dialect? Languages like Chinese and Arabic are at the same time being considered a language as well as a language family. It is also hard to distinguish different colloquial registers of languages that are mutually intelligible with each other like it is the case with Northern Germanic languages - Swedish, Danish and Norwegian, whose people generally understand each other.
Another difficulty is who we consider as a second-language speaker (L2). Applying different criterions to English, the number of second-language English speakers ranges between 700 million and 2 billion.
So where is the list?
Let us focus on communication and just look at the number of total number of speakers - combining native speakers (L1) and people who acquired the language (L2). This number is far more important than merely taking into consideration native speakers, as learners of specific languages have the possibility to connect with both, first and second language speakers.
1.132 billion speakers
English belongs to the Germanic languages and became a global lingua franca.
2. Mandarin Chinese
1.116 billion speakers
Mandarin Chinese would lead the way if we would compile a list of native speakers - but as a spoken language it comes second after English.
615.4 million speakers
Hindi is one of the 22 scheduled languages of India and is the lingua franca of the Hindi belt - a populous region including Delhi.
534.3 million speakers
Spanish is a Romance language that originated in the Castile region of Spain and is with its millions of speakers a global language.
279.8 million speakers
Another descendant from vulgar Latin that was spoken in the Roman Empire and today is the language for many organizations like the UN, the WTO and even the EU.
273.9 million speakers
Arabic is native to the Arab League and also known to be the liturgical language of 1.8 billion Muslims.
265.0 million speakers
Bengali is the official language of Bangladesh and also spoken in parts of India - the language binds together a culturally diverse region.
258.2 million speakers
Russian is the most widely spoken one of the Slavic languages. Apart from Russia it is still widely used in all post-Soviet states.
234.1 million speakers
Portuguese is the most spoken language of the Southern Hemisphere and has official status in 9 countries.
198.7 million speakers
Because of the large population of the country, Indonesian belongs to one of the most widely spoken languages of the world.
Languages, as they are spoken, constitute the doors and gates to cultures, cultural knowledge, and people. If you can hack the code of knowledge in which people are encoding it, you can have access to that knowledge.
Which door are you going to open next?
How about unlocking the door to China?
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