A Level English Language Website
Which is the most popular language in the world?
By Paul Baker
The language which has the most native speakers (e.g. people who speak a language as their first language) is Chinese, which accounts for about 1 in 5 speakers on the planet. After that, come English, Spanish and Hindi-Urdu (two languages which are written down differently, but sound similar enough to be understood by both sets of speakers when heard) - each of these account for about 1 in 20 speakers at the moment, although it's predicted that English is likely to slip to 5th place and be replaced by Arabic at some time in this century.
However, as well as first-language speakers, we can also count people who learn a language as a second language at school (second-language speakers). If we consider these people, then Mandarin Chinese is still at the top, with 1,052 million speakers, English comes second with 508 million speakers, Hindi-Urdu is third with 487 million speakers and Spanish is fourth with 417 million speakers.
We can also consider the number of countries across the world that use certain languages. So while English doesn't have more speakers than Chinese, it's spoken in many more countries than Chinese. As well as been spoken as a first language in the UK, the USA, Ireland, Australia, it's also the "official language" of countries like India and Singapore. And it has a special status in countries like China, Russia, Japan, Greece and Poland, where it is often taught as a foreign language.
English also has a special status in that it's used as a "world" language in lots of different ways. So about 80% of internet communication is in English, many global satellite television channels broadcast in English (CNN, Sky News, MTV), certain products (McDonalds, Coke, Pepsi) bring the English language to many places in the world (the picture above shows an example of one form of global English being used in McDonalds advertising), about 99% of European organisations use English as an official language, and the universal form of language used across the world by air traffic control centres is a simplified version of English. Therefore, English has impacted on the world more than any other language, even though it doesn't have the most speakers.
Whether English will continue to be known as the closest thing to a global language we have though is another matter.
See http://www.britishcouncil.org/learning-research-english-next.pdf for more information.