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7 Countries with the Most Official Languages in the World

Did you know that there are over 7100 spoken languages worldwide? A significant percentage of these languages are spoken in seven countries on this list. They all share one thing in common; they are countries with the most official languages in the world. Despite the multitude of tongues, most of the world’s speakers understand English, a language spoken by 1.1 billion people. Mandarin follows as the second most popular language in the world, and the third is Hindi. Of the 7100 tongues spoken by humanity today, only 114 are countries’ official languages.

But what is an official language? For clarity, a tongue can only be considered the official language of a country when it has legal and constitutional backing. Official languages are often the most widely used in a country. They usually serve as a medium of instruction in schools and public institutions. Official languages are also valuable for drafting official national documents like the Constitution. Where there is no common native language, an official language often serves as the lingua franca.

The United States of America and Mexico are perfect examples of countries that lack an official tongue. English is the de facto language for business and governance. That said, the USA has no official language enshrined in its Constitution. In this same vein, Mexico has no official language. But the North American nation adopts Spanish for administrative and business purposes. Some countries have so many native tongues that it forces them to adopt more than one as their official language. 

That said, we have researched and compiled a detailed list of seven countries with the most official languages in the world.

Countries With The Most Official Languages in The World 

1. India

Countries with the most official languages in the world.

India’s position on this list is controversial. Despite having over 19,000 native dialects, India only has 22 recognized official languages. However, the Constitution only recognizes these languages at the regional level.

Hindi and English are the only transactional languages for parliamentary business at the national level. Furthermore, intra-government correspondence, judiciary proceedings, and other official communications are in English.

As a result, many consider India to occupy the second spot on the list of countries with the most official languages, behind Zimbabwe, which has over 16 official languages at the national level. However, if we loosely apply the definition of an official language, India sits atop our list.

Hindi is the most popular of India’s 22 official languages, with 528 million speakers. English, Bengali, Marathi, Telugu, and Tamil are other popular tongues.  

2. Zimbabwe

The Zimbabwean Constitution adopts 16 languages as official languages. The country is in the Guinness Book of Record as one of the countries with the highest number of official languages enshrined in the constitution. The official languages include Ndau, Nambya, English, Chibarwe, Chewa, Kalanga, Shona, Xhosa, Tswana, Shangani, Venda, Ndebele, Khoisan, Sotho, Tonga, and Sign language. 

Despite the country’s numerous official languages, most of them are not promoted. Even though the Constitution categorically states that all the official languages be treated equally, English, Shona, and Ndebele are much more popular than others.  About 70% of the Zimbabwean populace speak Shona, and about 20% speak Ndebele as their first language. English is widely spoken by natives as a second language and used as an official language of communication and instruction in most government institutions. 

So if the bulk of Zimbabwe’s official languages are losing popularity, why are they still in the constitution? Apparently, the country’s Constitution only allows the addition of official languages but does not permit any language to be expunged. So, unless the Constitution is amended, the list of official languages can only go up.

3. South Africa 

With about 11 official languages, South Africa sits third on the list of countries with the most official languages in the world. Out of over 35 native languages spoken in South Africa, ten are the nation’s official language.

The 11th is English, which is most widely used in parliamentary deliberations. All official languages enjoy equal legal status as enshrined in the constitution. Other unofficial languages spoken in the country are also protected by the grundnorm.  

The official languages in South Africa are English, Xhosa, Afrikaans, Ndebele, Tswana, Zulu, Veda, Northern Sotho, Sotho, Swazi, and Tsonga.  The country’s most widely spoken native language is the Zulu language, spoken by 23% of the inhabitants of South Africa. Xhosa is the nation’s second most popular language, spoken by 16% of the population. Afrikaans and English follow closely with a 14% and 9.6% speaking population, respectively.

4. Bolivia

Bolivia 1024x579 1 7 Countries with the Most Official Languages in the World
Bolivia januar 2009. Urbefolkningskvinner på vei hjem fra MAS-kongressen i Oruro.

The Bolivian constitution outlines 38 ethnic groups and languages, but only four languages are given legal status. The most recognized languages in Bolivia are Spanish and Quechua, spoken by 84% and 81% of the citizenry, respectively.

Aymara, a language spoken majorly by the people of the Bolivian Andes, is the third most popular official language, whose speakers constitute 18% of the nation’s population. Despite being listed as an official language, Guarani is a language that only became written recently. Under one percent of Bolivians speak the language.

5. Singapore

Due to its colony history and strong ties with China, Singapore has many official languages. These languages are English, Chinese, Malay, and Tamil. English is due to the island nation’s history as a British colony. It is the language used in schools, official government correspondence, and business.

Mandarin Chinese is also a widely spoken language made official to accommodate the teeming Chinese population. Malay, spoken by 18% of Singaporeans, is the national language. The last official language is Tamil, representing 8% of Singaporeans of Indian origin.

6. Switzerland

Switzerland recognizes four official languages: French, German, Italian, and Romansh. The country is known as a Willensnation, the product of an agreement between its 26 cantons to come together as a nation. These cantons or administrative blocs have distinct languages, as they were historically independent states with armies, borders, language, and customs.

German is spoken by 63% of Swiss, while 20% of the nation speaks French. Eight percent of the population speak Italian, and Romansh, the least popular of the official languages, only has 60,000 speakers. Romansh is predominantly spoken in the Swiss canton of Grisons.

7. Papua New Guinea

Of its numerous native dialects, the country has adopted three as its official language. This includes PNG Sign Language, Tok Pisin, and Hiri Motu. English is also an official language, introduced by former colonizers of Australia and currently spoken by nearly 2% of the population. Tok Pisin is the most popular language, spoken by almost 5 million inhabitants.

Countries With Three Official Languages

A significant number of countries have adopted three languages as their official language. Going by data provided by indy100.com, Wikipedia, and our research, these countries include Bosnia, Belgium, Rwanda, Seychelles, and Vanuatu.

Bosnia has three official languages, Serbia, Bosnian, and Croatian. Although the three official languages share many similarities, Bosnian is widely spoken by Bosnian citizens. 

Belgium adopts three languages as official languages. The three languages enjoy equal legal status and protection enshrined in the country’s constitution. The languages include Flemish, French, and German.

Out of the three official languages, the Flemish language is spoken by 59% of the Belgian population. The French language is spoken by 40% of the people, and the German language is spoken by 1% percent.

In Rwanda, French, English, and Kinyarwanda are the official languages. In comparison, Vanuatu adopts its native tongue Bislama, along with English and French. Seychelles speaks Seselwa, French Creole, and English.

Answers To Some Frequently Asked Questions

Q1. How many official languages are in the world? 

There are over 114 official languages in the world. This figure was obtained from data extracted from the CIA World Facebook

The top 5 languages spoken worldwide are; English, Chinese (Mandarin), Hindi, Spanish, and standard Arabic. Statista provided this ranking in an article published in March 2021. 

The results showed that an estimated 1.35 billion people speak English as a native or second language. Mandarin or the Chinese language comes close, taking the second position with 1.12 billion speakers. The other popular languages spoken by humans are Hindi, Spanish, and Arabic. 

Q3. What is the official international language of the world? 

English is the world’s global language at the time of writing. An international language is widely recognized and used beyond its national borders. The English language’s widespread usage has made it possible for members of different countries to communicate in a common language.  

Q4. Which country has the most official languages in the world? 

Officially, Zimbabwe holds the record of the most official languages worldwide. Its 16 languages are recognized nationally by Zimbabwe’s constitution. The Guinness World Records recognizes Zimbabwe as having the highest number of official languages. Although India has more official languages, they are only recognized at the regional level, giving Zimbabwe the edge.

Q5. What is the difference between a national language and an official language?

National languages are dialects that enjoy formal use in schools and in public. However, they may not serve as the official language of the country. For example, many former colonies adopt native languages as national languages.

Although these national dialects enjoy formal use in schools and other public institutions, the language of their colonial masters serves as the official language. It is also important to note that non-sovereign or stateless nations lack the judicial power to adopt any language as an official language. All the languages used would be categorized as national languages.  

Q6. What are the world’s oldest languages? 

The oldest languages in the world are Sanskrit, Hebrew, Sumerian, and Basque. They are considered the oldest because there are written records of them. However, these languages may not be the oldest after all. It is almost impossible to tell if older languages exist due to a lack of evidence. Hence, spoken languages were not considered. 

Q7. Which languages are going extinct?

About 231 languages have gone extinct over the years. Also, one language or dialect goes extinct every two weeks, according to recent projections. 

Q8. What is the origin of language? 

It is still uncertain when the first human language was invented. Nonetheless, experts believe modern man must have used languages as far back as 100,000 BC when the time man developed the tools for speech: the voice box, skull size, and brain. 

Q9. Can one get more intelligent by learning a new language?

You can get smarter by learning a new language. Scientists say that becoming multilingual can increase brain power. Scientific research also suggests the mind’s aging process can be slowed down by speaking more than one language. 

Adios

All forms of communication – verbal or non-verbal, are integral aspects of our daily lives. Language plays a crucial role in communication. We don’t know where or when it all began, but we can see the role language plays in our society. Bonds are formed, and lifetime partnerships are created using languages.  

Language forms the basis of our human interactions, and learning a new language can make your travel, work, or study a lot easier.

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