Identifying the official languages that exist throughout the world is not nearly as easy a task as it may seem. In fact, there are approximately 7,000 languages currently spoken in countries around the globe. And while some languages may be more commonly spoken than others, trying to convince a citizen of Senegal who speaks Balanta, or an Amharic-speaking native of Ethiopia, that his or her language is not an official language may be a difficult argument to win. The fact of the matter is, of course, that every language in existence today is important and vital to those people who actively use that language to communicate.

Still, by virtue of sheer population numbers, there are some languages that are more commonly spoken than others. If you are a native English speaker, you might be under the impression that English is the most commonly spoken language. The reality is that English actually falls to number three on the list, behind Chinese (#1) and Spanish (#2). Other languages that fall within the top ten most commonly spoken include Arabic (#4), Hindi (#5), Bengali (#6), Portuguese (#7), Russian (#8), Japanese (#9), and German (#10).

But simply having vast numbers of people speak a language doesn’t necessarily make it an official language within the global community. To a large extent, the list of official languages throughout world will vary depending on who you ask. NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization), for example, recognizes only two official languages: English and French. A more realistic list comes from the United Nations, which calls out the following six languages as the organization’s official list:

• Arabic
• Chinese
• English
• French
• Russian
• Spanish

Accepting these six as the official languages of the UN allows countries within that organization to more clearly communicate with one another. This list makes sense in many ways, considering that several of these languages fall into the most commonly spoken category, and that many of the world’s most powerful and influential countries can claim one of these languages as their own official language.

While this short list does come remotely close to including all of the approximately 7,000 languages currently in existence throughout the world, that may change over the decades to come. Countless languages die each and every year. In fact, some linguistic experts estimate that half of today’s languages will no longer exist 100 years from now. Our world is becoming increasingly global in nature, and the more people rely on the Internet and effectively communicating with one another through electronic means, the more likely we will be to rely on the use of official languages.