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Top 10 Most- Spoken Languages of India

One of the reasons that travelers fall in love with India is its incredible diversity of religions, people, cultures, and languages. India is one of the most linguistically diverse countries in the world with 22 languages officially recognized by the government and hundreds more that are spoken across the country.

The most widely-spoken languages in India are Hindi and English, but almost every state in the county has its own dialect or regional language.

In this article, we will explain everything you need to know about the languages of India including the most spoken languages, where they are spoken, what language to learn before you visit India, and some useful travel phrases.

Languages of India

Most-spoken languages of India Asia Highlights

So now you may be wondering, what is the official language of India?

While this question seems easy to answer, in India's case, it is not so straightforward. Every state in India has its own language, and while Hindi is the most widely spoken, it is only natively spoken in 9 of the 29 states of India.

To make communication and legislation easier, the Indian government has chosen Hindi and English to be the official languages used for government affairs.

However, according to the eighth schedule of the Indian constitution, every state is allowed to choose its own official language. Today Indian has 22 official languages which are commonly called "scheduled languages".

Because of this linguistic diversity, India has no national language. When the country became independent in 1949, there were attempts to make Hindi the national language, but this spurred protests in South India where the languages that are spoken are from an entirely different language family.

Check out the map below to see what regions of India speak which languages.

Top 10 Languages of India

There are over 780 languages spoken in India including the scheduled languages, their dialects, and the local languages of minority peoples. Below we have listed the top 10 most-spoken languages of India.

To help you understand the differences between these languages, we'll show the translation for the word 'red' in each one.

1. Hindi

Hindi Speakers: 551 million

Where: Delhi, Haryana, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand, Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh, and Chattisgarh speak Hindi as their first language.

Hindi is an Indo-Aryan language that stems from ancient Sanskrit and is natively spoken by about 41% of the people in India. Hindi is the primary language of North India and around 60% of Indians can understand and speak Hindi.

2. Bengali

Bengali Speakers: 83 million

Where: West Bengal and Assam

Bengali is a North Indian language originating from the state of West Bengal. Bengali and Hindi are both different languages but they both come from Sanskrit meaning that some words and grammar structures are similar between the two.

3. Marathi

Marathi Speakers: 72 million

Where: Maharashtra and its neighboring states

4. Telugu

Telugu Speakers: 71 million

5. Tamil

Tamil Speakers: 67 million

Where: Tamil Nadu

6. Gujarati

Gujarati Speakers: 55 million

Where: Gujarat

7. Urdu

Urdu Speakers: 51 million

Where: Jammu and Kashmir

8. Kannada

Kannada Speakers: 44 million

9. Odia or Oriya

Odia Speakers: 38 million

10. Malayalam

Malayalam Speakers: 35 million

Where: Kerala

Other Scheduled Languages

Some of the other important official languages of India include Punjabi, Assamese, Konkani, Khasi, Mizo, Kashmiri, Nepali, Manipuri, and Sanskrit.

English Language in India

So if all these languages are spoken in India, how do Indians communicate?

The answer is that they will often use English.

English was brought to India by the British and has been widely used as the one language that almost everyone has in common in India. In large cities, all children are taught how to speak English in school and English is often used in the central government, on countrywide news channels, and in business.

Indian languages and English have a long history of exchanging words and many Indians today will use certain English phrases such as 'hi', 'bye', and 'cheers' instead of saying them in their native language.

When traveling in India, it is very normal to hear locals speaking a mixture of English and their native Indian language. In North India, many people speak Hinglish and will carry on conversations while unpredictably switching between English and Hindi within the same sentence.

Foreigners who are exploring Indian cities and developed tourist areas should have no problem getting around by just speaking English. However, if you are traveling to rural areas in India it is less likely that the locals will understand English and it will be necessary to bring a guide who speaks the local language.

What Language Should You Learn Before Traveling to India?

You do not have to learn a new language before traveling to India because English is understood almost everywhere. However, learning a few phrases in the local language is a good way to impress locals and make them act more warmly towards you.

How Hard is it to Learn Hindi?

Learning a new language is always difficult and it is especially daunting when that language is very different from your native language. If you grew up speaking English, then the languages of India will look and sound very foreign to you.

The two major aspects of Hindi that foreigners can find a little frustrating to understand when learning Hindi are the pronunciation and honorifics.

Hindi Pronunciation

One of the best parts of learning Hindi is that, unlike English, everything in Hindi is pronounced as it is written and once you know all the sounds learning new words is easy.

However, the downside of Hindi is that it includes sounds that do not exist in English and are difficult for native English speakers to pronounce.

In Hindi, there are three R sounds and two T sounds. These different sounds don't exist in English and many English speakers will have a hard time differentiating between them and pronouncing them.

Hindi also includes many consonants that are immediately followed by a ha sound which don’t exist in English. For example, in Hindi, there is a consonant that sounds like da and another that sounds like dha. There is also a ka and a kha.

Depending on which one you use you can say a completely different word. For example, khaana means 'food' or 'to eat' whereas kaana means 'one-eyed'.

Although pronouncing words in Hindi can be difficult for foreigners, even if you get the pronunciation wrong it is likely that the people you are speaking to will still understand what you want to say and just be happy that you are trying to learn their language.

Formality and Honorifics

One of the major differences between Hindi and English is the use of honorifics. In Indian culture, respect for age and social position are both very important and this is strongly reflected in their languages.

In India, it is seen as impolite to call someone who is older than you or of a higher social standing by their first name. Instead, there are many honorifics (respectful titles) that should be used.

Useful Hindi Travel Phrases

For more Hindi travel phrases check out our complete guide to How to Say Hello in Hindi.

English Hindi Pronunciation
Hello Namaste Nam-as-tay
Thank you Shukriya Shoo-cree-ya
Please Kripaya Crip-ee-ya
Yes Ha Haaah
No Nahi Naa-he
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