Top Ten Languages with a Surprisingly High Number of Speakers

Depending on whom you ask, there are between 6,500 and 7,500 languages spoken today. Some languages have more speakers than others, and some languages are better known than others.

Languages with more speakers are generally more famous. However, this correlation isn't one-to-one. Some widely spoken languages are not as well-known as one would expect.

Despite being popular, these languages aren't as famous as one might assume. Those who are aware of them often underestimate the number of people who speak them.
The Top Ten
1 Malay

According to Wikipedia, Malaysian is "spoken by the vast majority of those in Malaysia." This is over 34,000,000 people, which is expected and unsurprising.

However, this list entry isn't for Malaysian. Rather, it's for Malay, which is a bit different. Malay, also known as Bahasa Melayu, includes both Malaysian and Indonesian, with a total of 300,000,000 speakers. The two dialects are mutually intelligible, so they're considered one language.

While "34 million people speak Malaysian" makes sense to most people, "300 million people speak Malay" requires more explanation. Malay is, therefore, the most unexpectedly popular language due to this technicality.

2 Bengali

Bangladesh is a small country in land area. However, its population is one of the world's largest. Also, there are many Bengali speakers in West Bengal, India.

Since বাংলা (Bangla) is spoken in very densely populated regions, the fact that it isn't widely spoken in terms of land coverage doesn't mean it's unpopular. 275,000,000 people speak this language, which, as of writing this list, is more than the number of German and Russian speakers.

3 Hausa

With around 80,000,000 speakers, Hausa is the 25th most spoken language in the world, beating out Italian and rivaling Korean. However, most people have never heard of this language because it's spoken mostly in Niger and Nigeria, where the educational systems prefer French and English, respectively.

Another reason why Hausa isn't well known is because there is little media and economic output from the places where it is spoken. In other words, those places are poor and ignored by the West.

4 Swahili

As a language that was made famous in the US by The Lion King, it isn't known for much else. However, Kiswahili is widely spoken in Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Rwanda, with 72-89 million speakers in total, ranking no higher than 28th place in the world.

Also, most Swahili speakers learned it as a second language, so this language is growing very quickly.

5 Turkish

While Turkey might not be as influential as Germany, France, and the United Kingdom, it's still the 17th most populous country in the world. This means that Türkçe is a fairly widely spoken language, ranking 18th in 2024.

In total, 90,000,000 people speak Turkish, mostly in Turkey but with small communities in Germany and the United States.

6 Polish

Poland, being next to Germany, is often portrayed as being more rural and less developed than it actually is. However, the country with the tallest building in the European Union has 38,000,000 people, and its language has 40,000,000 speakers.

This is definitely not what one would expect from a country stereotypically known for growing potatoes and being Catholic nutjobs.

7 Yoruba

Most Nigerians speak English. However, many only speak indigenous languages, such as Yoruba. While English is the lingua franca for all of Nigeria, some parts of Nigeria historically spoke Yoruba, and they still do today.

About 46 million people speak Yoruba, which is more than the number of speakers of many languages that are more famous, like Swedish and Dutch. However, fewer children are learning Yoruba in favor of English, which is more widespread.

8 Marathi

Maharashtra is a very populated state in India, including Mumbai, Nagpur, Nashik, and others. It is the second most populous state, with 112,374,333 residents. In that state, they speak मराठी, or Marathi. This language has about 100,000,000 speakers, which is a lot, despite its lacking the status of an official language.

However, it is much more famous than many other Indian languages, especially in places with a lot of South Asians. "श्री हनुमान चालीसा," or "Shree Hanuman Chalisa" by Hariharan, is India's most viewed song on YouTube, with over 3 billion views.

9 Telugu

In Southern India, languages are very different than in the north. Rather, they are Dravidian instead of Indo-European, which are distinct and completely unrelated. Dravidians have a harder time learning Hindi than the rest of India, so those languages have stuck around.

తెలుగు, romanized as "Telugu," is the most spoken. Today, 96 million people speak Telugu, making it the world's 14th most popular language.

10 Quechua

While Navajo might be the most famous Native American language due to its use in World War II, Runasimi is the most widely used. There are 6,900,000 speakers of Southern Quechua, the variety spoken in and around Cusco. However, when other, less mutually intelligible dialects are included, this figure can be as high as 10,000,000.

Most speakers live in Peru and Bolivia, with smaller communities in Argentina. Smaller dialects are spoken in Ecuador as well.

The Contenders
11 English
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