Asia is a massive continent, and is home to about 4.46 billion people who speak close to 2,300 languages – that’s a lot! With a population six times that of Europe, that shouldn’t be surprising. But, if you’re looking to learn a new language, and seem overwhelmed by the diversity of languages in Asia, we’ll make it easier for you with this list of the most popular languages in the continent and who speaks them. The most spoken language in Asia: you probably already know what it is!
Chinese – 1 billion speakers in Asia, 1.2 billion speakers worldwide
That’s right, Chinese is the most spoken language in Asia! But, it’s actually not just one language, but a family of language dialects. Mandarin Chinese is the most popular version of the language, and the official language of China – Mandarin is spoken by about 51 percent of Asia’s total population! Other prominent dialects of Chinese include Wu, Min, and Yue.
Why’s Chinese so popular? Well, the massive population of the country is a large factor – thanks to huge economic growth in China over the past few decades. Analysts estimate China to become the leading economy by 2050, so you better start studying the language now!
Want to learn Chinese? Check out our blog posts like How to Write Chinese Letters For Absolute Beginners.
Hindi – 550 million speakers in Asia
Next up on the list: Hindi! This is the most spoken language in India, and comes from Sanskrit. Hindi is the lingua franca of the Hindi belt, a central zone of India united by the language – though other popular languages in the country include Punjabi, Tamil, and Telugu. There’s also Urdu, which is mutually intelligible with Hindi, meaning the languages are similar enough that speakers of the two languages can understand each other. Hindi is the fourth most-spoken native language in the world, behind Chinese, Spanish, and English.
Fun fact: Despite being the most spoken language in India, it’s not the country’s national language – because India’s constitution never gave any language that distinction!
Hindi also made the list for easiest languages for English speakers to learn. Curious to learn more?
English – 300 million speakers in Asia, over 2 billion speakers worldwide (native and as a foreign language)
This one shouldn’t come as a surprise, either – as the lingua franca of the world, English is hugely popular in Asia. The language was introduced in some countries during colonization, or was later adopted due to English’s huge world presence. It’s used officially in Hong Kong, the Philippines, Singapore, India, Pakistan, and Malaysia. Pidgin English is also popular in Papua New Guinea. Linguists believe English speakers make up about 17 percent of Asia’s population!
Russian – 260 million speakers in Asia
Yep, Russian makes the list too! Since Russia is the largest country in the world (by land mass), this makes sense. Former Soviet bloc countries still speak Russian as well – the language is used in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and disputed territories in Georgia. Russian is also considered an official language of the United Nations.
Why should you learn Russian? The reasons may surprise you.
Indonesian – 240 million speakers in Asia
While you may not think Indonesian would be as popular as languages like Korean or Japanese, it’s actually *more* popular! Linguists say Indonesian is spoken by about 10 percent of Asia’s population. Outside of Indonesia, it’s used as a working language in East Timor.
Is Indonesian one of the hardest languages for English speakers to learn? See for yourself!
Arabic – 230 million speakers in Asia
Arabic comes next! Yes, parts of the Middle East are in the Asian continent. The language is classified as an “Afro-Asiatic” language – meaning it has origins in both Africa and Asia. Arabic is spoken in Qatar, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Yemen, Kuwait, Bahrain, Syria, Palestine, Lebanon, Oman, the United Arab Emirates, and Israel.
Bengali or Bangla – 230 million speakers in Asia
This one’s actually a tie with number 6 – both Arabic and Bengali have around the same number of speakers in Asia. What is Bengali, you may ask? The official language of Bangladesh, of course! According to the country’s last census, about 98 percent of Bangladeshis speak Bengali as their native language. If you visit West Bengal, Tripura, Assam, Andaman and Nicobar islands, or Jharkhand regions of India, you could also hear Bengali.
Want to know some popular Bengali phrases? Yep, we wrote about that too.
Japanese – 120 million speakers in Asia
You probably expected Japanese to be higher on this list, didn’t you? Despite its significant cultural influence, Japanese is only spoken by about 5 percent of the entire Asian population. However, because of Japan’s status as a science and technology powerhouse, experts expect the number of Japanese speakers to rise in coming years.
Punjabi – 100 million speakers in Asia
Punjabi is also a popular language in the continent. Linguists have classified Punjabi as an Indo-European language, you can hear the language in parts of India (Punjab, India, Haryana, Delhi, and Chandigarh) and Pakistan (Punjab).
Filipino – 93 million speakers in Asia
This may be better known to some as Tagalog, though Filipino is technically a standardized form of the Tagalog language. According to the most recent statistics, Filipino is the first language of about a third of Filipinos, while about 45 million more speak it as a second language.
And there you have it! Those are just a couple of the most spoken languages in Asia. Of course, there are plenty more that come to mind, like Korean, Vietnamese, or Thai. After reading through our list, which language do you want to learn next?
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