Are you sure that’s the language you want?

I’ve had it smugly chimed to me before that English is, in fact, not the most widely spoken language in the world; Chinese is. With a whopping 1.2 BILLION speakers, while English has only in the 300M region. English is even beaten out by Spanish in number of speakers!

Then my mind started churning… doesn’t China have the largest population in the world? Wouldn’t it make sense that more people would speak their native language than any other, but exactly how large is China’s population? Would you be surprised at all if I told you China has a population of 1.3 billion?

That’s right; China has almost the same population as the number of people who speak Chinese. Filled with righteous indignation, I asked myself: How dare they skew the statistic with such a bias! If I was choosing a language, would I want a language spoken by a billion people in one place I’ll never go, or one spoken by less but in many countries?

So, in order to find the true, most widely spoken language in the world, I began searching. I don’t know all the languages of the world so I used the list kindly given by the chart my friend shoved in my face. To be fair, I only used countries which have any given language listed as one of their official languages, as any country can have a person who decided it would be fun to learn some other language.

The original list can be found here for comparison:

Here is where each of those languages would be rearranged to count only officially speaking countries:

1 English: 54
2 French: 27
3 Arabic: 22
4 Spanish: 21
5 Hindi: 16
6 Portuguese: 11
7 German: 7
8 Russian: 4
9 Bengali: 2
9 Chinese(Mandarin): 2
10 Japanese: 1

As you can see; Chinese ties for ninth place out of 11 countries. So now, the next time somebody tells you that you are wrong about something and hands you a chart to prove it; you can tell them that sampling bias doesn’t prove anything and show them how their chart looks using a relevant statistic to compare.

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