Chinese vs. English as world languages

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Source: mental floss

The world’s 7.2 billion people speak thousands of languages.  But a majority—4.1 billion—speak one of 23 languages that are spoken by more than 50 billion people each.

Here are the top five:

1,197,000,000 Chinese speakers

399,000,000 Spanish speakers

335,000,000 English speakers

260,000,000 Hindi speakers

242,000,000 Arabic speakers

There are more speakers of Portuguese (203,000,000) than Russian (166,000,000) and more speakers of Korean (77,200,000) than French (75,900,000).

On the other hand, an estimated 1.5 billion people have learned English as a second language—several orders of magnitude more than are learning all of the world’s other major languages put together.

I have to point out that all these figures are estimates, made at different times using different methods, and may not be precisely accurate or comparable.  Still, the estimates are the best figures available and I’d guess they give a roughly true picture of the world.



A writer for The Economist once observed is that there is an advantage is speaking English as a second language rather than a first language, because you can communicate to your compatriots in a way that unilingual English-speakers can’t comprehend.

Given that logic, it’s to the advantage of the Chinese that so few English speakers make the effort to learn their language.


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