Top 10 languages on the internet

Or why you should consider learning a new language / translating your blog.

We recently wrote about the most widely spoken languages in the world. Learning a new language takes a lot of effort so it helps to know which one will get you the most conversation opportunities.

Well, the internet is one of the hottest places to interact with people from different countries so it makes sense to have a look at the top languages used on the Internet as well.

This list is by Internet World Stats, which counts the number of internet users speaking each language. The numbers were last updated in June 2008.

The Top 10 Internet Languages

1. English (431m)
2. Chinese (276m)
3. Spanish (125m)
4. Japanese (94m)
5. French (68m)
6. German (61m)
7. Arabic (60m)
8. Portuguese (58m)
9. Korean (35m)
10. Italian (35m)

So Chinese and English get the top spots, no surprises there.

But number 3 is Spanish, replacing Hindi in the top 3 spoken languages (more on this in a future post).

Chinese is counted as one language here because the different dialects use a common writing system, although their spoken versions (eg Mandarin, Cantonese etc) are quite different.

Languages to watch

In 2020 this ranking could look very different. Chinese now outnumber Americans online, according to a report released this month. How long before Chinese replaces English in the number one spot?

Spanish is also increasing quickly, as is Arabic. With only a small percentage of its native speaker population online, Arabic is likely to rocket up this list in the next few years.

The future of English

As the USA has led the sprint online, English has been the dominant language on the Internet until now. But as online populations grow in the rest of the world, so does the challenge of other languages on the web.

The big question is, will English continue to be used for communication between different cultures, or will the internet split up into self-segregating communities based on preferred language?

In the long term the role of English as a ‘bridge’ language across cultures may give it the upper hand. But this might not help native English speakers – it seems they cannot understand International English as it is spoken by non-native speakers.

Update: Global Culture blog analyses some cultural implications of the increase of Chinese on the web in the post a billion web users.

Read More:
Top 20 Languages of the World
How difficult is Chinese?
Is there an easy way to blog in a different language?

About the author

Lucy (Liz) Chatburn
Lucy is English and first ventured out of the UK she was 19. Since then she has lived in 4 different countries and tried to see as much of the world as possible. She loves learning languages, learning about different cultures and hearing different points of view.
Other 501 posts by

5 Comments

  • English on the internet will always be higher than the actual number of mother tongue speakers of English because it fulfils the role of lingua franca. The form of international English will be highly different though from the classical form of English taught in schools.

    Another trend is indeed the breaking up of the internet in language subgroups. With four dominant languages which will ultimately grow out to be the most influential languages for the next century. I’m quite sure that English will control intercontinental connections, and control North-America, Europe and Australia/New Zealand, India and Africa. Chinese will become influential in East Asia. Spanish in Latin America. Arabic in the muslim world.

  • I agree. It will be interesting to see how effective English can be as more and more local web content is written in local languages. The Latin American web community is already quite self-contained from what I’ve seen.

  • Very interesting article. Will be interested to see how thing develop over the next 5 years.

  • Danie

    ” But this might not help native English speakers – it seems they cannot understand International English as it is spoken by non-native speakers”

    Pfff that’s non sense, what do you think if the native english speakers learn other languange ._.

  • Hi Danie. Good point – of course they can learn. My point was, native speakers sometimes do have to learn how to communicate with non-native speakers, even when they are talking English. I am a native English speaker, and I know that when I am talking with my (foreign) friends I use a different English than when I am talking with my family, for example. Sometimes they teach me words as well!

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