Papua New Guinea is the most multilingual country, with over 839 living languages, according to Ethnologue, a catalogue of the world’s known languages.
The site ranked countries and territories based on the number of languages spoken as a first language within their borders.
Here are the top 10 most multilingual countries:
Papua New Guinea’s linguistic diversity can be largely explained by the topography of the country – deep valleys and difficult terrain have led to the separation of tribes and clans and thus several different tongues and dialects have evolved.
The country has a relatively small population of 7 million, which means it is highly likely that two randomly selected people will have different mother tongues.
Indonesia has the next highest number of languages, with 707, while North Korea is the least multilingual country.
Unsurprisingly, smaller countries and islands make up the lower rankings: the British Indian Ocean Territory, for example, has only one language spoken within its borders.
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Benefits of bilingualism
But research suggests that being bilingual has extensive cognitive benefits and may even reduce the effects of ageing. These studies propose that speaking more than one language not only improves linguistic and communication skills but also has a much broader positive impact on the brain.
In addition to cognitive benefits, studies have found there are also social and cultural advantages to speaking multiple languages.
The Ethnologue ranking only looks at the number of languages used as a first language in each country. It doesn’t measure the number of people in a country who speak more than one language.