Which language has the most non-native speakers and why?

The distribution of non-native language (L2) speakers around the world reflects a very interesting mix of history, politics and economics.

It common knowledge that English and Chinese stand out with regard to the total number of speakers – these two language are the only ones that break the 1 billion people barrier (see the chart below). But the breakdown in native verses non-native speakers is very different for these two languages. And most other language have interesting stories behind their shares of native verses non-native speakers.

In the case of English, a massive three quarters of all speakers are non-native speakers, reflecting the language’s role as the modern day global linga franca and language of business. This is undoubted due to the dominant global roles once played by Great Britain (“the empire on which the sun never sets”) and currently played by the United States (think Hollywood and Coca-Cola). English remains the language most commonly learned as a second language, with French as distant second.

On the other hand, Mandarin Chinese is the mother tongue of the vast majority of its one billion plus speakers with only 18% being non-native speakers. And unlike English whose non-native speakers are scattered around the global, non-native speakers of Mandarin are mostly geographically confined to China itself and are typically non-Han Chinese minorities within China who are required to learn Mandarin at school as the national language.

Indonesian (Bahasa Indonesia) with a non-native speaker share of 78%, is both similar to China and different. Bahasa Indonesia is the official of the Republic of Indonesia, which itself is an ethnically and linguistically diverse archipelago of 270 million people. It is estimated that in the region there are more than 700 indigenous languages and Bahasa had been used as the lingua franca in the region for centuries. The striking difference to China, where Mandarin is the language of the dominate Han Chinese, Bahasa Indonesia is based on Old Malay which is not originally from Indonesia at all but from Malaysia, and was spread by colonisers and foreign traders arriving from the west via the Malacca Straits . Interesting Dutch, which was spoken widely during the colonial period, disappeared quickly with Indonesia’s independence and the formal adoption of Bahasa Indonesia as the national language.

Hindi, for which L2 speaker make up 45%, is also similar to Indonesia and Chinese in that it serves as the national language of India, a country that remains extremely linguistically diverse. A legacy of her colonial past, English remains an important language in India where it is estimated that there are 125 million speakers, over ten percent of the country’s population and accounting for close to one quarter of all non-native English speakers in the world.

Urdu, with a non-native speaker share of over 60%, is very similar to Hindi – that is the national language of Pakistan – a very ethnically and linguistically diverse post-colonial nation.

Spanish and Portuguese both have large numbers of speakers, but relatively low shares of non-native speakers. As with the case of the colonial legacy of Great Britain and the English language in places like the United States, Canada and Australia, Spain and Portugal also “exported” their languages to large land masses where their languages swamped the indigenous languages.

Arabic also in part owes it prominence to conquest – in this case the Muslim armies that swept across the Middle East and North Africa starting in the 7th century. Its popularity as a second language now days is a consequence of the importance that the Arabic language holds in the religion of Islam and its holy book – learning Arabic so as to be able to read the Quran in it’s original language is a goal of many Muslims around the world, and this in part accounts of languages relatively high share of L2 speakers at 37%.

The French language’s very high non-native speaker share of 73%, is also a story of colonialism. Rather than large sparsely populated land masses as in the case of Spanish and Portugal, France’s principle colonies were in a patchwork inAfrica where French became the administrative language and lingua franca amongst the diverse local ethnic tapestry. France continues to strongly promote the use of language across its francophone ex-colonies (La Francophonie).

Swahili is also notable with an L2 speaker share of 84% among its 84 million speakers. It is spoken in a swath of countries down the eastern coast of Africa and is the official language of several countries including Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda. Modern Swahili is based on a tribal Bantu language which rose to prominence when the colonial powers that ruled on the coast of East Africa, including the Arabs, Portuguese and Germans, used the language as a lingua franca across the region. The first written form of Swahili used the Arabic script and indeed Swahili played a major role in spreading both Christianity and Islam across East Africa.

Thai is the final language on our list with the large non-native speaker share of the total number of speakers, at 66%. This reflects the political hegemony of the Kingdom of Thailand over an ethnic and linguistically diverse country.

Both Japanese and Korean have effectively a zero non-native speaker share reflecting the ethnic homogeneity of their homelands and the failure to establish colonies long term. Japanese did colonise Korea for several decades around the turn of the 20th century and during that time tried to suppress Korean in favour of Japanese.


Interested in learning a foreign language?

Why not try the Declan FlashCards app? It’s a fun and effective tool for learning 1000s of words and expressions in 14 languages (and counting).

Learn 1000s of words in French, Spanish, Japanese, Chinese, Italian, Korean, German, Hebrew, Greek, Russian, Portuguese and now Inglés!

More details and free download links here.

Learn 1000s of Japanese words and phrases

Learn 1000s of Japanese words and phrases with Declan FlashCards.

Learn 1000s of 🇯🇵 JAPANESE 🇯🇵 words and phrases with Declan FlashCards for iPhone/iPad and Android.

The Japanese channel has 6,500 words and phrases, organised into 111 topics. Each and every word has true native speaker audio.

Start by reviewing the words in groups of ten (the learning list). Then jump into the exercises – multiple choice, spelling and listening. Get one answer wrong and you have to redo all the exercises for that word – reinforcing the words that that need most attention.

Features and benefits of Declan FlashCards:

* Every language includes 1000s of words.
* Every word includes a native speaker’s audio recording.
* Flashcard review and exercises to aid memorization.
* Strict Learning-List testing technique ensures word retention.

Sharing course material with students using Declan FlashCards Channels

What are Declan FlashCards Channels?

Learn 1000s of words in French, Spanish, Japanese, Chinese, Italian, Korean, German, Hebrew, Greek, Russian, Portuguese and now Inglés!

Declan FlashCards is an app for iPhone/iPad and Android devices that helps foreign language students learn vocabulary.

The app comes ‘pre-loaded’ with 14 language channels each containing 1000s of words and phrases.

The Channels feature allows schools to create their own bespoke channels containing course-specific content which students can load into their copy of Declan FlashCards.

How do students load a channel?

Add a channel to Declan FlashCards by entering a “Channel Code”.

Students add a channel to Declan FlashCards by entering a “Channel Code” provided by the school.

The channel’s details are then presented and the student can choose to install it.

Declan Channel details.

Using a Channel

newly installed channel

The newly installed channel will appear above the pre-installed channels.

Tap the channel icon and the list of topics or lessons will appear.

Within each lesson are the words and phrases which can be reviewed and then the exercises can be attempted.

list of topics or lessons

Creating your channels

Schools work with the Declan Software team to set up channels.

The Declan Team takes the course content provided by the school (word lists and audio recordings), and compiles these into a Declan FlashCards Channel.

If required, we can assist with putting together wordlists, as well as help with producing the corresponding audio recordings using professional native-speaker voice artists.

Channels also require an icon – usually the school or university logo or shield.

Copyright and intellectual property protection

All word lists and audio provided by the school remain copyrighted to the school, with Declan Software having only distribution rights.

The channel materials are delivered to the app in an encrypted format to ensure intellectual rights are protected.

Additionally, offering this material via an app rather than a website further guards against copying.

The Channel codes themselves can be configured to prevent unwanted sharing and copying of the course material. These channel codes can be specific to each student, can be single-use, can limit the number of devices the channel can be installed on per code, and can also be set to expire.

What does it cost?

The institution can choose one of two options for how access to its channels is priced by Declan Software:\

1. An annual subscription paid by the institution based on the number of students using the institution’s channels, or

2. An in-app subscription paid by the individual app users – the students.

For pricing details please contact us.

There is no charge to the school for the work Declan Software does compiling channels, or for hosting them on our servers.

If assistance is required to record audio, these costs would be covered by the school.

Want to know more?

Declan FlashCards can be downloaded for free – for iPhone/iPad from the Apple AppStore or for Android from the Google Play AppStore:

Just search for “Declan FlashCards”.

Once you have installed the app, tap the yellow “+ Add Channel” button at the bottom of the page with flags and enter the code:

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or a demonstration of how Declan FlashCards Channels work.

Contact me

If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me at my private email:

If you’d like to discuss how Declan Channels could work for your institution, I am very happy to organise a call, or you can ring me directly on

Looking forward to hearing from you.

Our letter to the Russian Language Centre in London about Declan Channels


This is a letter written to the Russian Language Centre in London by the Declan Software CEO Peter Vujanovic pitching Declan Channels.


Thank you for getting back. I am very glad you did because in fact it was my experience at the RLC that prompted us to add the new Declan Channels feature to our Declan FlashCards language learning app.

I recall that the RLC sent a Trello link to each student that included the audio recordings of the vocabulary lists at the end of each chapter of the Russian Language Centre Course Books. While I found these audio recordings very helpful, the format was not ideal and made using them difficult. Also it was clear that the RLC was concerned about the material being copied and otherwise misused by students. 

So we have come up with a better solution and we call it Declan Channels.

Declan Channels is a new feature in our FlashCards app that allows language schools to share vocabulary lists (and the audio) with students in a simple, secure and copy-protected way. Once shared, the material can be used within Declan FlashCards – including the practice exercises – to help students learn and keep engaged outside the classroom. 

The idea is that schools create a channel for each course they offer that are split into lessons or chapters. The students are then each issued with the unique Channel code that allows them to install the channel on their copy of Declan FlashCards.

These Channel codes themselves can be configured to prevent unwanted sharing and copying of the course material. They can be specific to each student, can be single-use, can limit the number of devices the channel can be installed on per code, and can also be set to expire. Moreover the channel materials are delivered to the app in an encrypted format to ensure intellectual rights are protected. Additionally, offering this material via an app rather than a website or Trello page further guards against copying

So that is the pitch. If you’d like to learn more about how Declan Channels works and the benefits it offers the RLC and your students, there is a PDF attached. 

Please don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any questions or would like to discuss this further.

Thanks again.

Peter Vujanovic

What is the Best Way to Learn Foreign Language Vocabulary?

how to say 'Hello' and 'Hi' in many lots of languages.


Learning words is obviously a critical part of mastering a foreign language. While grammar is also important, grammar without words is useless. Conversely words without grammar are still very useful when trying to communicate in a foreign language. This is a point we made in one of our first posts on this blog Stringing a few words together in most languages will be more or less intelligible. Plunging in and having a go is critically important in learning a foreign language – especially not being embarrassed about making mistakes. Learning vocabulary and using it is the first step to mastering a foreign language.

So how to efficiency learn vocabulary? Here are a few tips for how to learn and retain words in the language you are studying.

1. BE SYSTEMATIC

Working your way through a list of words in the systematic and organised way is important. Being organised allows you to give each word the attention it needs. Simply working your way through a dictionary, for example, is a recipe for failure not only because of the sheer boredom but because it doesn’t allow to go gauge progress or to go back and revisit words that are not sticking.

2. SMALL BITES

Don’t bite off too much. A mistake many students make is to have scores or even hundreds of words in their current learning list and to plough through them once a day. This doesn’t work. Restrict you learning to a small subset of words at any one time. The optimal seems to be between 10 and 15 words or phrases. And keep drilling these until they are embedded in your memory. And then revisit them regularly.

3. VARY YOUR LEARNING

You need to do more than just flipping between a word and its meaning repeatedly, and then discarding the word when you think you know it. Firstly, thinking you know a word and will retain it is subjective and very often wrong. And secondly, encountering each and every word in that same context mixes them all up in your head and makes retaining the word more difficult. You need to make a unique place in your head for every word that you learn.

A better approach is to mix up your learning as much as possible. Physical or virtual flashcards should be just one component of your learning. Using flashcards in conjunction with exercises, games, actions or even music is the best approach.

More generally, a well known memorisation technique is to associate the thing you are trying to memorise with another context – be it an action, object, image, situation or even sound. For example, associating the word “blue” with the sky, or pointing up to the sky, or a song about “blue skies” is a very successful strategy for memorisation. Indeed there is a trend in language schools to use movement, and music to help students “feel” the language and therefore better retain what they have learned. Why not try and invent a color dance!?

Another strategy is to try to memorise phrases rather than just individual words. This gives the words in the phrase context. Often the rhythm and cadence of the phrase – something words alone often lack – can aid memorisation. Also if you can get lists of common expressions, these will invariably be useful when you get out there in the real world. And you will find that the best method for memorisation is hearing the words and phrases you are learning being spoken by native speaker back at you.

4. ORGANISE YOUR LEARNING BY TOPIC OR THEME

This is part of being organised, but it is more that this. Learning by topic or theme gives context to what you are learning – it creates a little world in your mind where you can place each word and phrase and this help enormously with recall and retention.

5. REPETITION, REPETITION, REPETITION

The title speaks for itself! This means that you need to be disciplined about investing time every day to studying vocabulary. This is where most people fall down – it can be tedious. But the rewards are great. There is no greater thrill for a beginner student of a foreign language to recognise a word or phrase they have recently learned when watching a film or TV show or listening to a song in the language they are trying to master.

6. USE IT OR LOOSE IT

Use it or loose it is a subset of the repetition point. Retrieving a word from memory and using it gives the word context and that reenforces retention in the long term. So try to get yourself into situations where you can use the vocabulary you are learning. If the best you can do is to listen (be sure to sing along) to music or watch films or TV shows, then at least do that.

But best yet of course is interacting with native speakers. But if that is difficult, a second best option is to find a friend and communicate with them in the language you are trying to learn. Sure you will both made ridiculous errors but that is not important – what is important is that it gives you the chance to recall the words and phrases you have being learning and through recall and repetition, you concrete them in place in your memory.

7. USE A FLASHCARDS APP

Declan FlashCards incorporates many of the techniques outlined above for learning foreign language vocabulary. Firstly learning is organised by topic. This helps to establish a context for learning which help with retention. Learning limits on a learning list of 10 words per topic at any one time. This keeps your learning focused. The exercises in Declan FlashCards are very much part of the learning methodology. Importantly, the exercises provide variety and reenforcement. Attempting the exercises and getting answer incorrect and trying again is very much part of a successful learning strategy. As users work through the exercises, a word that is deemed “learned” drops off the learning list and is replaced by a new word. If however the users get an answer incorrect, then all the exercises for that word need to be reattempted. Only when all the exercises are answered correctly consecutively for a particular word, is that word marked as correctly and moves off the learning list.

Channels on Declan FlashCards – Share lesson content with your students

Hey Language Teachers!

Looking for a way to share lesson content with your students outside the classroom and language lab? Want to keep your students engaged?

The CHANNELS feature on Declan FlashCards makes this easy!

Set up a channel for your foreign language course and your students can access the course material on their mobile devices, anywhere anytime, in a fun, simple, secure, and copy-protected way.

See here for more details: http://www.declansoftware.com/declanchannels/



Using Declan FlashCards Channels to share lesson content with students

Declan FlashCards has introduced a new feature called Channels – the idea is to provide a platform that lets foreign language teachers, schools and faculties share course material with students via their mobile devices in a streamlined and secure way.

For students it’s a fun and effective tool to supplement their class work that allows them engage with the course material anywhere anytime using their omnipresent mobile phones and tablets.

How does it work?

Students access the course material on the Declan FlashCards app via ‘channels’. Each course that your school/faculty offers can have its own channel containing the course material, organised into lessons, chapters or topics. Each topic contains words and phrases, their meanings and audio pronunciations.

Declan FlashCards is able to handle any language pair, in either direction.

Students accesses their specific course channel using a code provided to them by the school. These channel codes can be specific to each student, can be single-use, can limit the number of devices the channel can be installed on per code, and can also be set to expire. The student enters the channel code into Declan FlashCards and the channel is loaded into the app. The app then functions as a flashcards tool, allowing the student to review vocabulary and phrases, and reinforce their learning by testing themselves with exercises. It’s a great way to help students prepare for class, and to help them retain the vocabulary and phrases used in class.

How does it work for schools?

There is zero cost for schools to offer Declan FlashCards channels to students. Schools work with the Declan Software team to set up channels.

The Declan Team takes the course content provided by the school/faculty (word lists and audio recordings), and compiles these into a Declan FlashCards Channel. If required, we can assist with putting together wordlists, as well as help with producing the corresponding audio recordings using professional native-speaker voice artists.

All word lists and audio provided by the school remain copyrighted to the school, with Declan Software having only distribution rights. Moreover, the channel materials are delivered to the app in an encrypted format to ensure intellectual rights are protected. And as outlined above, channel codes can be configured to prevent unwanted sharing and copying of the course material. Additionally, offering this material via an app rather than a website further guards against copying.

What are the costs?

The only cost is an app subscription paid by the app user – the student. There is no charge to the school for the work we do compiling channels, or for hosting them on our servers. If assistance is required to record audio, these costs would be covered by the school.

Want to know more?

Please download Declan FlashCards for free – for iPhone/iPad from the Apple AppStore:

https://apps.apple.com/app/apple-store/id1530034734

or for Android from the Google Play AppStore:

https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.declansoftware.declanflashcards

Once you have installed the app, tap the yellow “Add Channel” button at the bottom of the page with flags and enter the code:

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for a demonstration of how Declan FlashCards Channels work.

If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact us at my private email: contact@declansoftware.com. If you’d like to discuss how Declan Channels could work for your institution, we are very happy to organise a call.

Looking forward to hearing from you.