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A great inspiration for some language learners is to be able to speak to a large number or wide range of people in more than one country. To that end, a language learner may want to know which languages (besides the obvious English, Spanish, and French) are the most widespread so that they can go to more than one country and be able to speak in L2 to the general population.

Hindi, for example, is spoken by hundreds of millions of people, but it is official only in India. Therefore, unless you seek out only the Hindi-speaking communities in various countries during your travels, then Hindi won't get you very far outside of India.

It would also be useful to know in your answer if the various spoken dialects are comprehensible to each other. For example, most of the Spanish dialects in the many Spanish-speaking countries are quite comprehensible to each other, but Moroccan Arabic will be hard to understand by an Iraqi Arabic speaker and vice versa.

  • If broken on smaller units, Brazil would sum -say- 20 countries (it has 26 states). Internal accents are quite unique but understandable just like Argentinian, Colombian and Mexican accents on Spanish. – brasofilo Jul 2 '18 at 21:25
  • OK... But you could say this about any country. – AML Jul 2 '18 at 22:24
  • I was speaking territorialy wise. Almost the whole Europe fits inside the brazilian area. I guess the US, Russia, China and India fit the same bill. – brasofilo Jul 2 '18 at 22:41
  • I think my point is that a metric comparing Language per Square Meter would be very interesting. – brasofilo Jul 3 '18 at 0:07
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If you are interested in languages that you can practise in more than one country, then simply looking at the number of speakers is not sufficient; you also need to look at where the language is spoken. For example, Standard Chinese has the highest number of native speakers, but outside China and Taiwan, speakers of Chinese live rather thinly spread out over other countries (e.g. the USA; "China towns" in many cities around the world).

When looking at the number of countries where languages are spoken, English, Spanish and French are already excellent choices. There are a few more:

  • Arabic has 313 million native speakers, mostly in the countries of the Arab League. The downside to Arabic is dealing with the many variants (or "dialects") of Arabic in these countries.
  • Portuguese has 220 million native speakers and 13.8 million L2 speakers. According to Wikipedia, Portuguese is "the sole official language of Portugal, Brazil, Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, Angola, and São Tomé and Príncipe."
  • Russian has 150 million native speakers and 110.4 million L2 speakers. It is an official language in Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, and spoken in many countries in Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia.
  • You may also consider German, which has 90 to 95 million native speakers and 10–15 million L2 speakers. Of course, most of the native speakers are in Germany, Austria and Switzerland; native speakers in other countries often live separated from the "German Sprachraum" and have developed their own German dialects.
  • Swahili: mainly because it has so many L2 speakers in eastern and south-eastern Africa.

See also:

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