If someone wanted to talk to 50 or even 75% of the population, how many languages would he have to learn?

Are there maps showing how language speakers are distributed? In many cases it's not safe to assume that all citizens speak the national language.

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    Population of what?
    – curiousdannii
    Oct 9, 2017 at 11:09
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    @curiousdannii: I, and the other respondent, construed the question as world population. Otherwise, it would be trivial. Oct 9, 2017 at 11:12
  • @QuoraFeans Well of course, there isn't really any other interpretation that makes sense. But they've still got to learn to ask a complete question.
    – curiousdannii
    Oct 9, 2017 at 11:26
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    Did you try WALS? Oct 9, 2017 at 12:22
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    Does this question include speakers of a language (say English) as a second language, or must you use only others' native language -- even though it's a second language for you? Oct 9, 2017 at 16:29

4 Answers 4


With 12 languages -Mandarin, Spanish, English, Hindi, Arabic, Portuguese, Bengali(Bangla), Russian, Japanese, Punjabi, Javanese, German- you can communicate with at least 50% of the world population, talking in their native language.

The problem with higher percentages, is that the share of speakers decreases exponentially. For each additional percentage point you would be adding more and more languages. To approach the 75% figure, you'll need to add languages like Bhojpuri, which cover a mere 0.43% of the world population.

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    How did you come up with that set of twelve languages? Oct 9, 2017 at 20:28
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    Adding languages from the list here. Oct 9, 2017 at 20:44
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    Thanks. Why not put that into the answer? Btw, the question doesn't require native language, does it? And for example this page says about 1.5 billion people speak English, far more than native speakers alone. Oct 9, 2017 at 21:06
  • @StefanPochmann: yes, I picked native language speakers to avoid overlaps - among L2 Speakers of English are Spanish, Chinese or Hindi speakers. Oct 10, 2017 at 0:25
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    Non-native speakers of Spanish and Russian probably speak English too, since English is mostly the go-to L2 language. But yes, you'll get more than 50% with those languages for sure. Oct 10, 2017 at 10:59

Here and here you have lists of languages by number of speakers and the population percentage those make up. Then it's just a question of adding up until you're at your desired threshold.

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    Adding up the native speakers makes sense if we assume they do not count bilinguals in more than one category. Adding up the list of speakers (L1 and L2) only makes sense if we could exclude those who were already counted in other categories. Oct 9, 2017 at 10:48

With a quick spreadsheet based on the data from wikipedia that MGN supplied the answers are 5 (for 50%) and 14 (for 75%).


well I would say mostly the majors such as english, mandarin, spanish-spain, spanish-latin.

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