Many countries around the world have more than one official language, while some multilingual populations even use different languages in the same conversation. This linguistic variety has developed for many reasons, including colonialism, conflict immigration and cultural sharing. For these reasons and more, some countries are more multilingual than others; here are the top five!
Russia has 24 official languages. An impressive number, right? These are:
While the first 23 languages are spoken in different regions, Russian acts as the lingua franca for people to communicate with one another throughout the world’s largest country.
Although India only has two official languages (Hindi and English), each province of the country has its own official language—of which there are more than 20—used on the streets and in local media, such as Bengali, Marathi and Urdu. Consequently, most Indians are at least trilingual as many must move between provinces to work.
Aruba, a very small island near Venezuela, is part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. As a result, Dutch is the language used in education and business. However, English and Spanish are also languages taught in schools due to its economic dependence on tourism, as well as its proximity to Venezuela (where the official language is Spanish). In addition to these three languages, most people communicate in Papiamento, a creole that mixes Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch and English.
This tiny European country has more than four languages in common use. The first is used by locals to communicate with each other and is called Luxembourgish, a creole that mixes German and French. As you might imagine then, French and German are also official languages spoken by the majority of the population and both are taught at schools. Finally, English is compulsory in secondary education, meaning that most people living in Luxembourg speak 3 or 4 languages as a minimum.
Likewise, Singapore has four official languages: Malay, English, Mandarin and Tamil, though not every citizen speaks all four and English is considered the lingua franca. In more informal settings and poorer regions, however, many Singaporeans speak Singlish, a creole based in English with Chinese grammar and Malay borrowings.
What about the UK?
English is the most spoken language in the UK, but it is not the only one. The 2011 census shows that more than 4 million people living in the country do not speak English as their mother tongue. In fact, almost 150,000 people do not speak the language to a high level. So, what are the most popular languages other than English in the UK?
- Polish is the most widely spoken language other than English in Wales and England, largely due to the immigration that followed the Second World War.
- Then comes Indian and Pakistani languages like Urdu, Bengali and Punjabi (with almost 1 million speakers), mostly due to international students studying at university.
- Mandarin Chinese is also becoming increasingly popular in the UK, closely followed by Arabic and Turkish.
So, being multilingual is not so unusual, after all. Be part of this global trend and get started with a second or third language today!