These Are the 8 Most Spoken Languages in the Americas -and You Won’t Guess Half of Them

The 8 languages with most speakers from Canada to Argentina

Some of the most spoken languages in the Americas may be guessed, others may come as a surprise. The Americas have received tens of millions of immigrants from all over the world in the last centuries. So there are plenty of native and foreign languages that compete for the 7 spots of this list.

*The list is based on the estimates of the CIA’s World Factbook and Ethnologue. Numbers have usually been rounded. If you want to have a map at hand, try this one. Here we go!

1. Spanish: 418 million speakers.

If you did not see this one coming, surprise!: Spanish takes the crown in the Americas. Spain had quite an impact on the region since it was the first country to colonize the New World and the one that most extensively did so.

Nineteen countries consider Spanish their official language. And it is spoken from Canada to Argentina. This European language can boast of having 418 million native speakers in the New World.

The numbers (hold on)

Spanish is spoken at home by more than 99% of Costa Ricans (5 million people), Cubans (11 million), and Salvadorians (6 million); by 97% of Dominicans (10 million); 95% of Argentines (42 million) and Mexicans (119 million); 92% of Ecuadorians (15 million); 80% of Peruvians (25 million); and 42% of Bolivians (almost 4.5 million people). And that was just a partial list, there are more American countries were Spanish is the language of the majority.

Minority status

Even the territories in the United States that, once upon a time, belonged to Spain are still populated with Spanish speakers. So in New Mexico 46% of the population speaks this language at home. California (38%), Texas (38%), Arizona (30%), Nevada (27%), Florida (23%), and Colorado (21%) trail behind.

In total, 13.4% (44 million) of the population of the United States has this language as their native tongue. And almost 12 million more are fully bilingual, speaking both English and Spanish since childhood. Which, surprisingly, makes the United States the second country with most native Spanish speakers in the world.

2. English: 280 million speakers.

English slides easily at number two. And it is the other language that can claim official status in the four regions of the Americas: North, South, Central America, and the Caribbean.

In colonial times the British gained control over two countries of North America, one in Central America, one in South America, and ten in the Caribbean. Plus, to this day, the British have nine Realms in the Americas, that is, countries that recognize the Queen of England as their head of state, for example Jamaica. And several other countries, such a Trinidad and Tobago, have their own head of state now but are still members of the British Commonwealth.

The territories of the United States in the Caribbean, such as Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, also have English-speaking populations.

The numbers

In total, some 280 million people of the Americas are native English speakers. The United States makes the greatest contribution with almost 250 million souls (78% of their population), followed by Canada with 21 million (59%). Trinidad y Tobago contributes almost 3 million; Guyana, 650,000. The remaining English speakers live in Belize, the Caribbean, Colombia (1,910,000), Chile (1,828,376), and Mexico (350,000).

3. Portuguese: 209 million speakers.

Portugal was an early contender in the race to the Americas. And although it explored or settled parts of Canada and the Caribbean, it was ultimately beat by other nations, and its colonies were crushed. But it kept a stronghold in South America for almost three hundred years: Brazil. The country has 209 million inhabitants. There is no official data on how many of them speak Portuguese as their first language, but it is estimated that the vast majority do.

Brazil’s numbers could single-handedly place Portuguese third on this list. But the language is also spoken by minorities in nations such as the United States (693,000), Brazil’s neighbor, Venezuela (254,000); Canada (222,000); and another of Brazil’s neighbors, Paraguay (212,000).

4. French: 14 million speakers.

France’s case is similar to Portugal’s. France had territories in what are now the United States and Brazil. But it was pushed out by other European nations. Nevertheless, it did keep its settlements in Canada. And it still has dependent territories in both South America and the Caribbean.

In the Caribbean two islands, Martinique and Guadeloupe, are considered overseas regions of France, while three other territories, like St. Barts, have semi-autonomous status and are overseas collectivities of France.

Currently, around 14 million people of the Americas are francophones. Almost 8 million of those live in Canada, and some 4 million more in Haiti (Creole, which is spoken by 7 million Haitians has not been included). The other francophones live in the French Guiana, which is in South America; the French Caribbean, and in the United States (1,250,000).

5. Quechua: 9 to 16 million speakers.

Quechua is the first Native tongue of the list. The resilient language is only spoken in the Andes Mountains of South America.

Different ethnic groups speak Quechua. For example, the famous, and now extinct, Inca were Quechua speakers, and it was the official language of their empire.

Nowadays there are between 11 and 16 million Quechua speakers.

It is difficult to pinpoint their exact number since some Native populations are not overly fond of European ideas such as birth registration and census. Furthermore, Quechua-speakers tend to live in remote rural areas, and census takers may bypass them inadvertently.

Nonetheless, there are estimates: Quechua is spoken by 21% of Bolivians (2,396,000), 13.6% of Peruvians (4,261,047), and 12% of Ecuadorians (some 2,000,000). And by thousands of Colombians, Chileans, and Argentines.

6. Guarani: 5.6 million speakers.

Most countries in the Americas have a European tongue as their most spoken language, but not Paraguay. For Paraguayans speak Guarani, a Native language.

Guarani is the mother tongue of 80% of Paraguayans (5,6 million people). Two million of them are exclusively monolingual, while the others are fluent in both their language and Spanish.

The countries bordering Paraguay also have Guarani speakers: 200,000 live in Argentina, 67,000 in Bolivia, and 6,000 in Brazil.

7. German: 3.7 million speakers.

Germans immigrated to the Americas massively and constantly for centuries, and the migration intensified with the World Wars.

Currently, there are 1,500,000 people in Brazil whose mother tongue is German. There are entire communities in that country made up mostly of German immigrants.

One million German speakers live in the United States, 400,000 in Argentina, 400,000 more in Canada, 112,000 in Ecuador, 98,000 in Paraguay, 60,000 in Bolivia, 40,000 in Mexico, 40,000 in Uruguay, 20,000 in Chile, 9,000 in Belize, and 6,000 in Venezuela.

All in all, there about 3,685,000 native German speakers in the Americas.

Runner up: Aymara. 2.8 million speakers.

Picture of Evo Morales dressed in traditional Native American attire.
President of Boliva, Evo Morales. Aymara speaker. (Photo: Min. Relaciones Exteriores/CCBYSA2.0)

This Native American language is spoken mainly in Bolivia and Peru.

The Aymara people have lived in the highlands, in the Andes Mountains of South America, for at least 800 years. Most of them live in the vicinity of Lake Titicaca, a vast lake which has shores in both Peru and Bolivia.

There are about 2,800,000 native Aymara speakers.

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