Similar to this question (What are the most common languages among people who DON'T speak English?), is there any data on individuals who do not speak a language (or none of multiple languages), or data on how many people speak which combination of languages, that could be used to answer the question?

The idea is to be able to determine, for any person, the language or languages that would enable him to speak to the most new persons. Eg, if someone knows Spanish, it would not make sense (from the standpoint of this question) to learn another language from Spain, even if there is a large absolute number of ppl, because they would likely know Spanish, which could be used for communication. Someone who knows Cantonese might not want to learn Mandarin because of all the Mandarin-speaking ppl who know Cantonese. Someone who knows Hindi and English might not choose Mandarin next (if there are a lot of Mandarin speakers who also know English), etc.

Does such a data set exist? It could also be in a positive form, ie would show how many people speak each combination of languages, which could be used to subtract out languages.

Edit, 9/7/19: There is at least some data on English speakers. https://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/maps-and-graphics/mapped-english-speaking-countries/ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_English-speaking_population

  • 2
    You have Mandarin and Cantonese reversed. Most Cantonese speakers speak Mandarin, but not vice versa. Even in traditionally Cantonese-speaking cities like Guangzhou, Mandarin is a lot more common.
    – K Man
    Aug 11, 2019 at 2:13
  • This question is unanswerable.
    – Lambie
    Sep 22, 2022 at 20:00
  • It's definitely not unanswerable. Ie, if we had a data set of all the people in the world and a list of each language they spoke (to some degree), then we would be able to come up with this kind of information. That would be difficult, instead, I am asking if anyone has done some kind of study on a smaller, more manageable population that provides similar insights. It might be a difficult question, but it is in no way unanswerable.
    – Jack
    Sep 23, 2022 at 8:13
  • @Jack I don't see how you define a negative. You can say x number of people speak French but you can't say of all the people who speak French, x number speak Chinese. All you can do are surveys. There is no hard data on who speaks other languages aside from their native tongue. And generally, the speakers of a language are surmised based on country population data. However, in countries like the US that doesn't work as many people, even those living here and who are citizens may not really speak English at all.
    – Lambie
    Sep 23, 2022 at 16:33
  • @Lambie you say "You can say x number of people speak French but you can't say of all the people who speak French, x number speak Chinese". That is exactly the question I'm asking. In principle, it's not an unanswerable question, like, "god" knows the answer, it may happen we just have bad survey data, but there's no reason it is fundamentally unanswerable.
    – Jack
    Sep 30, 2022 at 7:51

1 Answer 1


I don't have any hard data for this, but here is my attempt at an answer.

If you already speak fluent English: Learn French, Spanish, Portuguese, Russian, Mandarin or Arabic. These are the only world languages in the top ten for number of speakers that are spoken in countries where English is not a lingua franca and where even the most educated do not necessarily speak it fluently. Hindustani, Bengali and Malay might not be worth it despite their popularity because they are spoken in former British colonies where the professional classes tend to be fluent in English.

If you are not yet fluent in English: Learn English. You will have no problem finding speakers of English who cannot speak your first language.

  • What about for someone who knows English and Spanish?
    – qciqd
    Sep 7, 2019 at 14:31
  • @qciqd You can still learn any of the languages mentioned in my answer. Most French, Portuguese, Mandarin and Arabic speakers still don't know English or Spanish. Alternatively, you could learn a minority language like Irish, Basque or Maya spoken in English and Spanish-speaking countries. There is no pragmatic reason for doing so, but native speakers you come across are sure to be delighted by your efforts.
    – K Man
    Sep 7, 2019 at 14:41
  • I don't see how you can make the statement that most French, Portuguese and Arabic speaker "still don't know" some other language.
    – Lambie
    Sep 23, 2022 at 16:34

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