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What Are The Most Popular European Languages?

Posted by Anne Q. on December 09, 2021.

Although being the second-smallest continent on Earth with over 748 million inhabitants, Europe is the home to an enormous number of languages – 225 languages. About 94% of European languages are from the Indo-European family and 24 languages are recognized by the European Union (EU) as the official languages spoken in its member countries.

Do you wonder which European languages have the highest number of speakers? Let’s find out the top 7 most popular European languages by the number of native speakers.

1. Russian

It may come as a surprise to you that Russian tops this list as the most spoken language in Europe. It is estimated that 140 million people speak Russian as their mother tongue across the continent. Russian is also a part of the Indo-European language family. Surprisingly, while most European languages use the Latin alphabet, Russian uses the Cyrillic alphabet. This is one of the factors that make Russian on the list of most challenging languages to master.

Most spoken European languages - Russian

Where is Russian most spoken?

Russian is the official language of Russia, Belarus, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan, while being widely spoken in the Caucasus, Central Asia, Ukraine, and the Baltic states as lingua franca.


2. German

Spoken by around 100 million people as their first language, German comes in second place in the list of most spoken European languages. German is the sole official language in Germany, Austria, and Liechtenstein, and the co-official language in the following countries: Belgium, Luxembourg, Switzerland, and South Tyrol (an Italian province). It is also in the top 3 most popular languages used in other European countries such as the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, Slovenia, Poland, Finland, Hungary, etc.

Most spoken European languages - German

Fun fact: German, along with English and French, is one of the European Union’s three procedural languages.


3. French

Spoken by 80 million native speakers, French is next on the list of most popular languages in Europe. It is a Romance language that originated from the Indo-European family. Within the European continent, French is the official language of France (obviously) and the co-official language of Belgium, Luxembourg and Switzerland. It is also a popular choice for a second language, with over 30% of Europeans fluent in the language.

Most spoken European languages - French

On a global scale, French is an official or administrative language in nearly 30 countries!


4. Turkish

Turkish ( also known as Istanbul Turkish or Turkey Turkish) enjoys a fourth place in this list, with 78 million native speakers within Europe. It is the most widely spoken Turkic language. Besides being used in Turkey as the national language and in Cypress as a co-official language, Turkish is spoken in other countries and areas such as Austria, Bulgaria, Germany, Greece, North Macedonia, Northern Cyprus, the Mediterranean, and some other parts of Europe and Central Asia.


Fun fact: Do you know that a large proportion of the Turkish-speaking population speaks Germany? The figure is approximately 1.3 million people.


5. Italian

Besides the obvious fact that Italian is the official language of Italy, it is a co-official language of the Vatican City, San Marino, and Switzerland, as well as a minority language in Croatia and Slovenia. It is estimated that approximately 60 million people in Europe are native Italian speakers. What’s more, Italian is the third most spoken language in Switzerland (after German and French).


Outside Europe, Italian is 21 on the list of most popular languages in the world, with about 85 million speakers.


6. English

The global lingua franca – English has 360 million native speakers worldwide, with around 60 million of those living in Europe. The majority of English native speakers in Europe are from the United Kingdom and Ireland. As for non-native speakers, nearly half of European from 15 to 35 are fluent in English while the figure for older Europeans is around one-third.


Following Brexit, many scholars predict English would lose its prominence in Europe. However, according to Forbes, it is still among the most spoken languages in this continent.


7. Spanish

The seventh place in the list of most spoken European languages belongs to Spanish. Spanish is the mother tongue of about 45 million Europeans. The power of Spanish on the global scale is even larger. It is declared the official language of 20 different countries, with 460 million native speakers and a total of 559 million speakers worldwide, making it the world’s second most widely spoken native language (just behind Mandarin Chinese).


Related post: The differences between Latin Spanish and European Spanish.


Wrap Up – Most Popular European Languages

If you are running a business with a plan to enter the European markets, knowing the most popular languages used in this continent will be of great help. This is because the popularity of languages is one of the key factors that determine which language(s) you should localize your content into to reach as many European audiences as possible.

If you are still unsure of your European language choice, get a free 1:1 consultancy from GTE Localize’s localization experts in Europe.

Translation services for European languages

GTE Localize is a professional translation and localization agency that provides value-for-money solutions for all major European countries. We have a deep network of native translators in Europe that can help you localize a wide range of content, from life science and engineering to business and IT – software. We apply the latest technology in all translation projects to increase the translation quality and reduce turnaround time while minimizing the cost for our clients.

Let GTE Localize be your localization partner and help you get closer to your European audiences.