Education and Skills

These are the world’s most multilingual countries

Linguistic diversity: Papua New Guinea is the world's most multilingual country, with a total of 840 languages spoken.

Linguistic diversity: Papua New Guinea is the world's most multilingual country, with a total of 840 languages spoken. Image: REUTERS/Eric Gaillard

Simon Torkington
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda
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This article was first published on 4 November 2016 and updated on 26 April 2023.

  • Papua New Guinea is the world's most multilingual country, with a total of 840 languages spoken.
  • The ability to speak more than one language can be a big plus in the jobs market, say experts.
  • Bilingualism is also said to bring a range of health benefits, including protection against conditions such as dementia and Alzheimer's disease.

Digital technology is breaking down language barriers like never before, but even the most popular translation tools have barely scratched the surface of human linguistic diversity. Google Translate now supports 133 languages, a tiny fraction of the thousands spoken around the world.

There are many countries where more than one language is spoken - but the country that tops the league for linguistic diversity is home to more than 800 languages.

Countries with the most linguistic diversity

Here are the top 10 most multilingual countries:

An illustration showing the countries with the highest rate of linguistic diversity.
Papua New Guinea leads the world in linguistic diversity, with 840 languages spoken. Image: Visual Capitalist

Papua New Guinea’s linguistic diversity can be largely explained by the geography and topography of the island nation. Deep valleys and difficult terrain have led to the separation of tribes and clans and thus several different tongues and dialects have evolved among the country's 9.4 million population.

Indonesia (711) has the next highest number of languages. Nigeria (517), India (456) and the United States (328) make up the top 5.

The world's most spoken languages

If you are looking to learn a new language, you are spoilt for choice. There are around 7,168 languages in use around the world today, according to data from researchers at Ethnologue.

Around 40% of these languages are endangered, with fewer than 1,000 speakers. The world's most dominant languages – 23 in all – are now spoken by more than 50% of the global population.

A visual representation linguistic diversity across the world.
A visual representation linguistic diversity across the world. Image: Visual Capitalist

The benefits of being multilingual

The ability to speak more than one language can be a big plus in the jobs market, say researchers at the European Commission.

In a globalized economy, more businesses are expanding into international markets and employers increasingly want staff who can connect with customers in their own language. Listing a range of languages on your resume/CV will help you stand out from the competition for the job. Once you've landed the role, it's also likely that additional language skills will mean you can command a higher salary, say the European Commission researchers.

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Beyond career benefits, research has shown that being able to speak more than one language brings a range of health benefits, including protection against conditions such as dementia and Alzheimer's disease.

A study published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology concluded: "Our findings provide further support to the notion that bilingualism plays an important role in mitigating cognitive decline and promoting successful ageing."

Have you read?

In addition to cognitive benefits, studies have found there are also social and cultural advantages to speaking multiple languages. What's more, people who speak one or more foreign languages are thought to be better at solving problems, as well as being more creative and empathetic, according to the European Commission.

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Education and SkillsEquity, Diversity and InclusionJobs and the Future of Work
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