Covering about 10 million square kilometres, Europe is the second smallest continent on earth. About 750 million people live there in 47 states. Depending on the definition, Europeans use 150 to 200 different languages. The majority of their languages belong to the Indo-European language families.
Linguists do not always agree on the detailed definition of when a language is a language in its own right or a dialect of a language. This is mainly due to the fact that written languages were not learned by larger groups in the normal population until the 13th century AD. Before that, there were only oral traditions, which naturally contained regional differences. The exact origin of some languages and dialects can therefore not be determined.
Some modern languages are now used in several countries and others are only spoken in a single country on the continent. The following are the most widely spoken languages in Europe:
5th place: Turkish
About 70 million people in Europe speak Turkish. A large proportion of Turkish speakers live in Turkey, but they also live in Cyprus, Greece and Macedonia. In technical jargon, Turkish is also often referred to as Ottoman Turkish. Turkish is the most widely spoken Turkic language.
4th place: English
Although English has been spoken throughout the world since the 19th century, only about 70 million people in Europe speak English as their mother tongue. In the United Kingdom and Ireland, it is considered an official language. In the rest of Europe, the younger population in particular is now also fluent in English as a second language, as it has long been offered as a school subject in many countries.
3rd place: French
About 80 million people in Europe speak French. Worldwide, French is considered an official language in almost 30 countries and in Europe, outside of France; it is one of the official languages spoken in Belgium, Switzerland and Luxembourg.
2nd place: German
Almost 100 million people in Europe speak German. In addition to the population of Germany, which numbers 80 million, German is also considered an official language in Austria, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Belgium and Switzerland. Next to English, German is considered to be the most widely understood language in Europe and those who know both German and English can communicate almost anywhere on the continent.
1st place: Russian
Some 120 million people speak Russian in European, with many also speaking it beyond the continent's borders. In Belarus and the Baltic states, Russian is also often spoken as a mother tongue. Many people find it easier to learn the spoken language than the written language of Russian, because the Cyrillic alphabet is very different.
Questions and answers about the most spoken languages in Europe
Within the European Union there are a total of 24 official languages. While in countries such as Germany only German is considered an official language, there are also countries that have adopted two or more official languages.
It is difficult to say for certain which language is the oldest in Europe, as oral traditions cannot be dated. Basque, however, is considered to be the oldest language in Europe, although the first written evidence dates back to the 15th century. It is still spoken today in South West France and Northern Spain.
The term lingua franca comes from Italian and literally means "Franconian language". Today, however, this term is understood to mean a global language that is used all over the world.
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