“To God I speak Spanish, to women Italian, to men French, and to my horse - German.” ― Emperor Charles V
Doubtless today, Charles would add, 'and English to diplomats...and to my accountant...and when I travel...etc.'
English is now the acknowledged lingua franca of business, science, medicine, tourism, diplomacy and more. Because of this, in addition to the millions and millions of native English speakers from England, the language's birthplace, to Guyana, the only English speaking country on the South American continent, millions more use it -- or are learning to use it -- as a second language. But there are other languages that are widely spoken, too, and depending on how terms are defined, some languages outrank English in terms of numbers of speakers.
How many English speaking countries are there in the world?
An exact answer is not possible, of course. There are reportedly 58 sovereign countries where English is an official language, plus three sovereign countries where it is the de facto language for a total of 61. That is according to Wikipedia.
This number does not count the 26 non-sovereign entities they list (e.g., Cayman Islands, Porto Rico) which also have English as either an official or the de facto language. If we include those, the total of 87 is a bit more than the 'at least 75' the British Council claims on its English language fact sheet. The sources the Council quotes are from 1995 and 1997. Wikipedia's sources are as recent as 2014.
Meanwhile, Purdue University puts the number of English speaking countries at only 42. (One of the 'countries' listed is the 'Commonwealth Caribbean,' which is not a country but a name for a group of of 10 independent countries, which are also included on the list.)
So, aside from answering the question 'How many English speaking countries are there in the world?' with, "That depends on who you ask" one could also say, "Who knows, really."
What are the most widely spoken languages in the world?
The CIA World Factbook tells us that Mandarin Chinese is the world's most widely spoken native language with an estimated 12.44% of the earth's population having it as a mother tongue. Spanish is second at 4.85%, and English third at 4.83%. Arabic and Hindi round out the top five at 3.25% and 2.68% respectively. Following these are Bengali 2.66%, Portuguese 2.62%, Russian 2.12%, Japanese 1.8%, Standard German 1.33%, and Javanese 1.25%.
If we add in all speakers of the languages, not only native speakers, it looks like the rankings do not change very much.
1. Mandarin Chinese - 1,917,000,000 estimated speakers 2. Spanish - 406,000,000 3. English - 335,000,000 4. Hindi - 260,000,000 5. Arabic - 223,000,000 6. Portuguese - 202,000,000 7. Bengali - 193,000,000 8. Russian - 162,000,000 9. Japanese - 122,000,000 10. Javanese - 84,300,000
What are the most widely spoken languages in the European Union?
The European Union includes English as one of its official languages. It is one of the 23 official and working languages of the EU. The others are: Bulgarian, Czech, Danish, Dutch, Estonian, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Hungarian, Irish, Italian, Latvian, Lithuanian, Maltese, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Slovak, Slovene, Spanish and Swedish. In terms of government, the European Commission uses English, French and German in general as procedural languages, while the European Parliament provides translation into different languages according to member needs.
English it is not the most widely spoken mother tongue in the EU -- German takes that title, with it being the native language of Germany and Austria. However, if one considers first and foreign languages together, in that sense English is the most widely spoken language there, with about 38% of the EU population conversant with it -- again, according to the CIA World Factbook.
Miscellaneous information about English and other languages -- including non-vocal ones:
Interestingly, the three countries where English is not an official language, but is only a de facto one, are the United Kingdom, the United States and Australia.
The six official languages of the United Nations are Arabic, Mandarin Chinese, English, French, Russian, and Spanish. Altogether these languages are the mother tongue or the second language of about half of the planet's population and are official languages in more than half the world's countries.
There are an estimated 7,100 languages spoken in the world. Around 150 to 200 languages have more than a million speakers. Approximately 80% of earth's languages are spoken by less than 100,000 people. About 50 languages are spoken by only 1 person.
Approximately 2,300 languages are spoken in Asia, 2,150, in Africa, 1,311 in the Pacific, 1,060 in the Americas, while a relatively few languages are spoken in Europe -- 280.
In addition to spoken languages there are also signed languages and whistled languages. The Omniglot encyclopedia of writing systems and languages claims that American Sign Language (ASL) is probably the most widely used sign language in the world. According to UNESCO, Silbo, the whistled language of the Spanish island of Gomera, is the only such language in the world that is fully developed and practiced by a large community -- more than 22,000 people can use this language.
Then, of course, there is body language, which has many varieties. But, discussing that could lead to a whole other article, so, I'll just end here with another quote from one of the most famous practitioners of that form of communication:
"I speak two languages, Body and English." Mae West.
Sources: British Council, CIA Factbook, European Commission, InfoPlease, La Gomera Travel, Omniglot, Purdue University UNESCO and Wikipedia.
Updated 6 June 2014