15 Common Languages That Are Spoken in Asia

With over 2,000 dialects known on the continent, we're focusing on some of the biggest in the Asian and Pacific Islander communities.

The largest continent in the world and home to nearly five billion people, Asia has around 2,300 languages that can be grouped in language families like Altaic, Austroasiatic, Austronesian, Caucasian, Dravidian, Indo-European, Afro-Asiatic, Siberian, Sino-Tibetan and Kra–Dai. In some Asian countries, English is taught in the academic curriculum or through professional training and many Asians speak English as a second language.

In the United States, Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) is the umbrella term used to describe people of Asian and Pacific Islander descent who are part of nearly 50 ethnic groups from East, Southeast, Central, and South Asia, and the Pacific Islands of Melanesia, Micronesia and Polynesia. According to the Pew Research Center, Asian Americans are projected to be the nation’s largest immigrant group by the middle of the 21st century.

In this article, we will focus on some of the most common Asian languages spoken by the AAPI population in the United States. The Asian and Pacific Islander communities are beautifully complex and unique, and this list should only be considered a beginner’s guide to learning more about these languages and the cultures that speak them.

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Khmer
a lovely smile of khmer little girl   sisterhood   ethnic minority children
Indochina Culture

Also known as Cambodian, Khmer is the official language of the Southeast Asian country, Cambodia. 1.3 million people in Southeast Thailand and Southern Vietnam also speak Khmer. Used in the ancient Khmer empire, the Khmer language has been written since the 7th century and uses a script system based on those in South India.

Russian
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Central Asian countries, including Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan, speak Russian in addition to the languages of their respective countries. Because of the political and cultural influence of Russia in the region, Russian is the main common language used in Central Asia for literature, diplomacy and trade.

Cantonese
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Xuanyu Han

Cantonese is a variety of Chinese that is spoken in Hong Kong, Macau, and Canton, along with other cities in the Guangdong and southern Guangxi provinces of China. Compared to Mandarin, Cantonese has more features of Old, or Archaic, Chinese, the language ancestor to all modern varieties of Chinese. While Mandarin has 1.3 billion speakers, Cantonese is used comparatively less with around 75 million speakers worldwide.

Laotian
laotian mom with her little boy, wearing traditional lantan tribe clothes, walking together in a lantan village in northern laos
hadynyah

Laotian, or the Lao language, is the official language of Laos, the Southeast Asian country that is geographically bound by China, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, and Myanmar. Laotian is primarily monosyllabic and uses tones to differentiate words that are pronounced similarly. The language has influences from Cambodian and Thai.

Tibetan
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triloks

The Tibetan language is spoken in Tibet, Bhutan, Nepal, and in parts of India. The most common dialect of the Tibetan language is Lhasa Tibetan, which is spoken in Lhasa, the capital of Tibet. Because of the spread of Tibetan Buddhism, the language is also spoken and read in the Western world and is commonly found in Buddhist publications and prayers.

Chinese Mandarin
languages spoken in asia  mandarin chinese
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Mandarin is the official language of China, and it's actually the most natively spoken language in the world, with 1.3 billion speakers. Speakers use four tones to speak Mandarin, and the written language uses over 100,000 special characters called "logograms."

Hindi
languages spoken in asia hindu
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Hindi, an Indo-Aryan derived language, is the most widely spoken language in India, though you'll find that most national business is done in English. It's spoken as a first language by nearly 425 million people, including those in Fiji.

Malay
languages spoken in asia malay
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Malay, or Bahasa Melayu, is comprised of two major dialects, northern (spoken in Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei) and southern (spoken in Indonesia). It's spoken by more than 33 million people as a first language, as well as widely used as a second language.

Indonesian
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The Indonesian language, also called Bahasa Indonesia, is very similar to Malay — a standardized version if you will — though natives can definitely distinguish between the two. Indonesian uses the Latin script, making it one of the easiest Asian languages for foreigners to learn.

Thai
languages spoken in asia thai
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Yes, it's the national language of Thailand and the the first language for most Thai people, but you'll hear people speak Thai in Laos, Myanmar, Malaysia and Cambodia. The language is spoken by 60 million people, or 2% of Asia's total population.

Burmese
languages spoken in asia burmese
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In Myanmar, (formerly Burma), Burmese is the official language. It's spoken by more than 32 million people worldwide. The Burmese script uses rounded letters and is called "ca-lonh," which means "round script."

Filipino
languages spoken in asia filipino
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Filipino, a standardized version of Tagalog, is the national language of the Philippines, while English follows as an official language of the country. While Filipino and Tagalog share the same grammar and conjugations and are nearly the same, Filipino is spoken nationwide while Tagalog is spoken mainly in Central Luzon.

Japanese
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The Japanese language is spoken by 121 million people, spoken in Japan and small Japanese communities across American Samoa, Hawaii, Europe, Australia and the Americas. There are three Japanese writing scripts, including Hiragana, Katakana, and Kanji.

Vietnamese
languages spoken in asia vietnamese
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The Vietnamese language belongs to the Viet-Muong branch of the Mon-Khmer language family and is spoken by about 75 million people. Because Vietnam was ruled by the Chinese Empire in 111 BC, a lot of Vietnamese words are adopted from Chinese.

Korean
languages spoken in asia korean
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About 75 million people speak Korean, or Kugo. Korean is the official language of both South and North Korea, and the two countries differ in minor spelling or vocabulary choice.

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