What Are the Most Multilingual Countries In the World?

As English-speakers, we often tend to ascribe one official language per country. In the most stubbornly monolingual regions of the United States and the UK, people tend to scrape by with mediocre second-language skills retained from a college course, if that.

In fact, 75% of the United States is monolingual.  This may seem normal to some, but plenty of countries would view it as a sad state of affairs.  Regions with very diverse populations or a complicated history of colonization can often have multiple official languages, such as Switzerland, which has four.

While Swiss people tend to speak only one language, depending on whether they live in the German, French, Italian, or Romansh area of the country, citizens of more linguistically dynamic countries can be fluent in two or three languages, and capable of conversing in many more!


Luxembourg is an example of one of these truly multilingual nations.  A tiny country sandwiched between the European powerhouses of France and Germany, citizens of Luxembourg grow up speaking fluent French and a variety of German peppered with French words.  All children learn English in school, and daily conversations are spoken in Luxembourgish.

Similarly, the Caribbean nation of Aruba has multiple official languages; technically, as it’s part of the Netherlands, Dutch is taught in schools and is the language of government procedures. Also, due to Aruba’s closeness to both the United States and Latin America – both of which contribute to the nation’s tourist economy – English and Spanish are required subjects in schools, and most students graduate speaking them both fluently.  And then, the island’s native language is Papiamento, a pidgin tongue derived from all three of these with some Portuguese thrown in.

Eagle Beach, Aruba by Göran Ingman via Flickr

In contrast to Switzerland and Aruba, Malaysia has only one official language: Malay. However, due to its being a melting pot of ethnicities, it has an even more complicated mélange of languages and hybridizations.  While everyone speaks both Malay and English, Malaysians with Indian roots tend to be fluent in Hindi, while Chinese Malaysians speak Mandarin in addition to other Chinese dialects.

South Africa takes the cake with eleven official languages; everyone speaks English, though only 10% of the population does as a first language. Afrikaans, a language similar to Dutch, is the native tongue in the southern regions of the country, while Bantu languages such as Zulu and Xhosa are the most common in other areas.

While citizens of these polyglot countries may take their language skills for granted, it is undeniable that it opens up plenty of career paths for them that would not have been accessible otherwise. Indeed, many people learn their third or fourth languages out of necessity, as a way to communicate in large, cosmopolitan cities fueled by the tourist industry. And as every native English speaker knows, knowledge of English allows an employee to work virtually anywhere in the world. Diversify your career opportunities by sending us an inquiry about our language courses, or try one of our free online language level tests.