Do numbers really matter when choosing a language to learn?


What criteria do you take into account when choosing a new language to learn? Do you check the number of its speakers? I guess some of you do. Once I thought it was a good strategy. But is it really?

Many people start to learn a language looking at the number of its speakers. They believe this way they will increase their chance to talk to foreigners wherever they are – statistically speaking you should stumble upon them more often. I used to share this opinion. Then… a reflection came to me: it’s not that easy as it seems. Where else could I use Bengali aside from Bangladesh?

The following table shows the languages with the highest numbers of speakers, according to Ethnologue: Languages of the World (as of 2022) at

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So, if you really focus on communication around the world, like it or not, you’d rather choose English, then Spanish and Portuguese. Maybe Arabic. But… It’s not that easy. The number given in a table shows the number of speakers of Modern Standard Arabic, used in the media and literature, which is not a native language for anyone. The truth is that Arabs usually speak their local dialect as a native language. Of course, you can communicate in MSA while traveling to north Africa or the Middle East but you may have difficulties when people try to talk to you in their dialect, especially young ones.

If learning languages is your passion and you want to be a polyglot, you could make a list of the languages shown in the table and learn them one after another or several at a time, if you have enough time and resources. Then you would have a right to boost: I speak all the major languages of the world!

Do you choose a language to study taking into account the number of its speakers or are you very practical and choose the one/s you may use in work or on a vacation?

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