Languages reflect a region’s history, culture, and values, as well as its people. Learning another language not only opens doors for communication but also creates a connection between cultures.
Top Languages Around The World
But did you know that there are about 7100 languages spoken around the world? The good news is that if you want to travel the world, you don’t need to master all of them. As a matter of fact, a few languages account for the bulk of those spoken.
Looking specifically at native speakers (those who said the language is their first language), here are the top ten languages spoken around the world and some fun sayings in each.
1. Mandarin Chinese – 920 Million Native Speakers
Mandarin Chinese claims the top spot on our list.
Have you ever heard the expression “huà shé tiān zú” while in China? It means adding unnecessary steps to something simple, but in literal terms, it translates to “draw snake, add legs.”
According to the Chinese culture, those extra steps will ruin your result.
2. Spanish – 475 Million Native Speakers
Coming in at number 2 is Spanish, with nearly 500 million native speakers.
In Spanish, you may hear the idiom “dar gato por liebre” which translates to “give a cat instead of a hare.” This means to deceive or cheat someone, like a salesman lying about a product.
3. English – 373 Million Native Speakers
In terms of native speakers, English is the third most spoken language. However, if you include those worldwide who speak English as a second language, it jumps to the top of the list.
English has a plethora of idioms. One of the weirdest also involves an animal. If there’s an awkward or obvious topic a group is avoiding, it’s referred to as “the elephant in the room.”
4. Arabic – 363 Million Native Speakers
Arabic cracks the Top Five with almost as many native speakers as English. Like Chinese, this language has many dialects. However, unlike Chinese, Arabic is less concentrated; many countries speak it.
A popular saying in Arabic is “el erd fi ein omo ghazal.” This very poetic way of calling someone ugly translates literally to “the monkey is as beautiful as a gazelle in its mother’s eyes.” Talk about mean!
5. Hindi – 344 Million Native Speakers
Hindi is one of many languages spoken in India and Nepal and has the fifth-highest number of native speakers. Like the languages above, Hindi has a lot of colorful idioms involving food or animals.
“Bandar kya jaane adrak ka swad” translates to “What does a monkey know about the taste of ginger?” and means that someone does not have the experience or knowledge required to criticize something.
6. Bengali – 234 Million Native Speakers
Bengali is spoken in Bangladesh and parts of India. Ever do someone a favor only to have them ask for more?
In Bengali, the expression “khete dile shute chaay” captures that unique irritation perfectly. It literally translates to “feed him, and he asks for a bed.”
7. Portuguese — 232 Million Native Speakers
Portuguese is the seventh most spoken language, with 221 million native speakers.
“Acordar com os pés de fora” is a Portuguese idiom that translates to “wake up with the feet outside.”
This is similar to the English expression “waking up on the wrong side of the bed”; it means to wake up in a bad mood.
8. Russian — 154 Million Native Speakers
With 154 million native speakers, Russian is the eighth most spoken language worldwide.
“Zamorit’ chervyachka” is one of the funniest idioms in Russian. It translates to “kill the worm.”
What exactly is the worm? A person’s hunger. This is how Russians express having a full belly.
9. Japanese — 125 Million Native Speakers
Japanese is unique on this list as it is the only language spoken entirely by a country. 99% of Japanese people speak the country’s official language.
“Yoko meshi” is a popular Japanese idiom which means “a meal eaten sideways” and is used to describe the awkwardness of trying to speak or converse in a foreign language—ultimately feeling like the words are going in a different direction.
10. Lahnda (Western Punjabi) — 101 Million Native Speakers
Last but not least is Lahnda. A popular Punjabi expression is “khaane chhole, dakaar badaama de,” which translates to “eating chickpeas but burping almonds.”
This funny idiom refers to someone who makes a big deal of their actions despite performing very little.
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This article was produced and syndicated by TPR Teaching.
I'm an Irish tutor and founder of TPR Teaching. I started teaching in 2016 and have since taught in the UK, Spain, and online.
I love learning new things about the English language and how to teach it better. I'm always trying to improve my knowledge, so I can better meet the needs of others!
I enjoy traveling, nature walks, and soaking up a new culture. Please share the posts if you find them helpful!