14 Common Languages Spoken in Asia

The continent of Asia is home to an estimated 4.7 billion people.

That means there’s a lot of talking, conversing and even writing going on.

Indeed, there are thousands of languages spoken in Asia.

In this post, we’ll cover 14 of the most common Asian languages, as well as why there’s so many and how you can learn them, if you’re so inclined.

Let’s get to it!


14 Diverse Languages Spoken in Asia

Here’s a quick overview of some of the biggest and most popular languages spoken in Asia, including where each is an official language on the continent:

LanguageNo. of Native SpeakersSpoken in...
Arabic375.4 millionBahrain, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Yemen
Bengali284.3 millionBangladesh, India
Chinese1.3 billionChina, Singapore, Taiwan
Filipino/Tagalog83 millionThe Philippines
Hindustani676.3 millionIndia, Pakistan
Indonesian/Malay220 millionBrunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore
Japanese124 millionJapan
Korean76 millionNorth Korea, South Korea
Persian67 millionAfghanistan, Iran, Tajikistan
Punjabi154 millionIndia, Pakistan
Russian258 millionKazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia
Thai61 millionThailand
Turkish80 millionTurkey
Vietnamese85 millionVietnam

Note 1: These numbers include all dialects of the given language, which may be spoken outside of Asia as well.

Note 2: These numbers are estimated based on the most current data available from reputable web resources.

Now, let’s go over each of these languages in a bit more detail.

1. Arabic

Number of native speakers: 375.4 million

Hear it spoken: “The Sound of the Modern Standard Arabic language”

As listed above, Arabic is an official language of many Asian countries located in the Middle East.

Arabic is a Semitic language, making it a relative of Amharic, Hebrew and several other languages spoken primarily in the Middle East.

Aspiring polyglots, take note: If you’re thinking about learning Arabic, you may already have a head start! Due to the influence of Arabic culture on Europe during the Middle Ages, a lot of Arabic words made their way into European languages, like Spanish, Portuguese, French and English.

2. Bengali

Number of native speakers: 284.3 million

Hear it spoken: “Why does Bengali sound so sweet?”

Sometimes called Bangla, Bengali is spoken in Bangladesh and some of neighboring eastern India.

Bengali is an Indo-Aryan language, so it’s a close relative of Hindustani and Punjabi. This also means it’s a distant relative of European languages, including Slavic, Germanic and Romance languages.

Bengali has both a literary (or “elegant”) form as well as the common, colloquial version spoken in everyday situations.

3. Chinese

Number of native speakers: 1.3 billion

Hear it spoken: “Seeing a friend on the street – Mandarin Chinese Dialogue”

Variations of Chinese are spoken throughout China, Taiwan and Singapore. Of course, that doesn’t mean every Chinese speaker you meet will sound the same—or even be able to understand one another!

Even though Chinese is considered the most spoken language in the world, it’s actually composed of many distinct dialects, some of which aren’t mutually intelligible (meaning that speakers of some dialects can’t understand speakers of others).

Chinese is a Sino-Tibetan language, making it a relative of Burmese, Tibetan and several other languages in the Himalayas and Southeast Asia. The Chinese language has also had notable influence on Japanese, Korean and Vietnamese.

If you want to learn it, the first step in Chinese studies is to decide which variation to study. The most popular options are typically Mandarin (which is spoken in Beijing and is the official language of China) or Cantonese (which is spoken in southeastern China and Hong Kong).

4. Filipino/Tagalog

Number of native speakers: 83 million

Hear it spoken: “Easy Filipino 12 – What is your dream in life?”

Filipino/Tagalog is spoken in the Philippines. It can be confusing to differentiate between them, in fact.

More than 100 regional languages are spoken in the Philippines. In the 1930s, the government chose Tagalog—a language spoken widely in Manila and surrounding areas—as the foundation for a national language. The effort was to try to establish a common language for the country.

Today, Filipino is the name of the official national language of the Philippines. Filipino is sometimes referred to as “Tagalog Plus,” since it includes words adopted from other languages such as Spanish.

The name of the language has changed throughout the years, so you might also see it as Pilipino. These are all Austronesian languages, making them relatives of Indonesian/Malay and Javanese.

5. Hindustani

Number of native speakers: 676.3 million

Hear it spoken: “Hindi & Urdu”

Hindustani is actually the name used to denote two languages that are sometimes classified separately: Hindi and Urdu.

Hindi is the official language of many states in the northern part of India. Throughout the years, there’ve also been attempts to make it the national language. Urdu is an official language in Pakistan and several states in India.

Both Hindi and Urdu are from the Indo-Aryan family of languages, and are close relatives of Bengali and Punjabi, and more distant relatives of European languages.

Hindi and Urdu are usually mutually intelligible. However, they do have some different vocabulary and different writing systems.

And while Hindi is probably the most well-known Indian language, other widely spoken ones include Telugu, Tamil, Marathi, Kannada, Gujarati and Pashto. They span several language families, but most belong to the Indo-European and Dravidian families.

6. Indonesian/Malay

Number of native speakers: 220 million

Hear it spoken: “How Different Are Indonesian and Malay?!”

There are over 700 languages spoken in Indonesia, but Indonesian is the only one with official status.

It gets a little tricky to discuss, because Indonesian is actually a standardized language based on the Malay tongue. As “Indonesian,” it’s obviously spoken in Indonesia. However, “Malay” is spoken in Brunei, Malaysia and Singapore.

At the time of its adoption as the national language, Indonesian was only the second most widely spoken native language in Indonesia, with Javanese being the most popular. To this day, there’s a significant population that speaks Javanese as a native language, while Indonesian is a second language for many in the country.

Indonesian/Malay and Javanese are members of the Austronesian language family, which also includes Filipino/Tagalog.

7. Japanese

Number of native speakers: 124 million

Hear it spoken: “Walk around in Yoyogi Park in Tokyo”

Japanese is the national language of Japan, though it has no official status.

According to Today Translations, the origins of the Japanese language are hotly debated, with some claiming it’s related to Chinese, Korean and/or Polynesian languages.

But while Japanese isn’t currently thought to be related to Chinese, it does use some Chinese characters and uses some words of Chinese origin.

And while expats of the country may speak Japanese in their new homes, Japanese is mostly isolated in Japan, and is in fact considered to be a “language isolate.”

8. Korean

Number of native speakers: 76 million

Hear it spoken: “Basic Conversation: at a convenience store”

Korean is an official language in both North Korea and South Korea and an area of China along the North Korean border.

Like Japanese, Korean is thought to be a “language isolate,” meaning it’s not related to other languages.

It is, however, thought to have some extinct relatives. Some also postulate that it could be a Dravidian language, related to several Indian tongues, including Tamil and Telugu, or an Altaic language, related to Turkish, Mongolian and possibly Japanese.

9. Persian

Number of native speakers: 67 million

Hear it spoken: “(Persian Vlog) A day in Tehran”

Persian is an official language in Iran, Afghanistan and Tajikistan, though each variety has some distinct differences.

As an Indo-Iranian language, Persian is a relative of several Indian languages, including Hindustani, Bengali, Punjabi and Marathi.

Persian also goes by many names. In English, it’s clearly called Persian; in Iran, it’s Farsi; the Afghani version is Dari; and in Tajikistan, it’s Tajik or Tajiki.

10. Punjabi

Number of native speakers: 154 million

Hear it spoken: “The Sound of the Punjabi language”

Punjabi is the most spoken language in Pakistan and is also widely spoken in northern India.

It is an Indo-Iranian/Indo-Aryan language, which means it’s a relative of Persian and several other Indian languages, including Hindustani, Bengali and Marathi. It has also been influenced by Arabic and Persian.

Notably, Punjabi in Pakistan and Punjabi in India are written with two different, mutually unintelligible scripts, and in different directions.

11. Russian

Number of native speakers: 258 million

Hear it spoken: “A Basic Dialogue in Russian”

Though you might not think “Asian language” when you hear “Russian,” it is widely spoken on the Asian continent.

A lot of Russia’s land mass is located in Asia. Additionally, Russian is an official language in the Asian nations of Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan.

Russia is a member of the Indo-European family, making it a distant relative of a wide array of languages, including Spanish, French, Bengali, Hindustani, Punjabi, Persian and countless other popular tongues. Its closest relatives, though, are Belarusian and Ukrainian.

Interestingly, Russian has a smaller vocabulary than some other common Asian languages—as well as English and many European languages.

12. Thai

Number of native speakers: 61 million

Hear it spoken: “Easy Thai 2 – The best Places of Thailand”

Thai is the official language of Thailand, and a member of the Tai-Kadai family, as well as a relative of the Lao language (however, the two aren’t considered mutually intelligible).

Many Thai words come from other languages, including Old Khmer, Pali and Sanskrit.

A notable fact is that Thai is a tonal language (like many Chinese dialects), meaning the level and movement of one’s voice when pronouncing a word affects its meaning. Thai is spoken with five tones.

13. Turkish

Number of native speakers: 80 million

Hear it spoken: “Real Dialogues in Turkish”

While Turkish is often associated with Turkey, the earliest known Turkic inscriptions were actually found in what’s now Mongolia. In the early middle ages, Turkic languages spread from Central Asia to Europe.

Now, Turkish is the most widely spoken Turkic language and is an official language in Turkey and Cyprus.

According to writer Robert Lindsay, it may be partially mutually intelligible with other closely related Turkic languages, such as Azerbaijani and Turkmen.

14. Vietnamese

Number of native speakers: 85 million

Hear it spoken: “Easy Vietnamese 1 – What’s typical Vietnamese?”

Vietnamese is the official language of Vietnam.

It is an Austroasiatic or Mon-Khmer language. Its closest relatives include Khmer (spoken in Cambodia) and some regional languages spoken in eastern India and southern China.

Since Vietnam was under Chinese rule for about 1,000 years, Vietnamese has been greatly influenced by Chinese. And since the country was under French control for a time too, the French language has also had a hand in shaping Vietnamese.

Why Are Asian Languages So Diverse?

As of 2023, estimates say there are over 4.7 billion people in Asia. That’s roughly six times the population of Europe (around 742 million). It should come as no surprise, then, that there are also a lot more languages in Asia.

Further, most Europeans speak Indo-European languages, such as Germanic, Romance and Slavic languages. However, Asian languages span a much broader variety of families, including Indo-European, Sino-Tibetan, Altaic, Dravidian and many others.

Asia’s diversity of linguistic families means there’s less overlap between languages as they’re spoken today.

Finally, remote regions of Asia have allowed many individual languages to develop without outside influence. Asia is home to mountains, islands, deserts, vast plains and jungles. All of these terrains can isolate communities.

When communities are in close contact with one another, some languages will die out as more common ones take over. However, geographic isolation can help more distinct languages endure.

On the flip side, this is also why there are many endangered languages in Asia—if these isolated communities dwindle, their languages tend to go with them.

How to Learn Languages Spoken in Asia

Are you interested in learning one or some of the languages mentioned above? Some options will have more available learning resources than others, mostly due to popularity and global influence, but you can find lessons for most in some form or another.

For instance, you can check out the various types of online language courses for a structured approach. There’s also the U.S. State Department’s Foreign Service Institute language learning materials, free and available to anyone.

If you prefer a more self-directed approach that can be done on-the-go, there are plenty of free websites and language learning apps to study where and when you have time.

In fact, the fastest way to get started in any language is immersive learning, or surrounding yourself with your target language. Of course, if you don’t currently live in Asia, that’s a lot harder to achieve.

You can mimic the immersion experience with a program like FluentU

FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.

You can try FluentU for free for 2 weeks. Check out the website or download the iOS app or Android app.

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In terms of Asian languages, FluentU currently offers Mandarin Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Russian.

For other video content, of course, you can always check out YouTube, which is also more likely to have examples and lessons for less common languages.

And if all of that fails, or if you’d rather have personalized instruction right from the get-go, you can always find a private tutor in any language you wish.


It’s estimated that there are over 2,000 languages spoken in Asia—the 14 diverse and intriguing languages here are just the tip of the iceberg!

Now the question is: Which one will you learn?

And One More Thing...

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With FluentU, you'll learn real languages—as they're spoken by native speakers. FluentU has a wide variety of videos as you can see here:

FluentU has interactive captions that let you tap on any word to see an image, definition, audio and useful examples. Now native language content is within reach with interactive transcripts.

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You can learn all the vocabulary in any video with FluentU's "learn mode." Swipe left or right to see more examples for the word you’re learning.

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