Can I Learn 100 Languages?

No way. I’m not that crazy.

But I have lived in three countries outside the U.S. without being remotely fluent in any of their languages. And I survived!

Lesson learned: You really only need to know two words in any given language. (And for the rest, Google Translate.)

They are: hello and thank you.

If you can say hello and thank you in another country, you can generally get what you need while still appearing polite. Then you can pull out the phone, the old-school dictionary, or just your hands and play the foreigner card for the rest.

It’s not ideal of course. Ideal would be one language or every person speaking all languages. But it’s practical.

And really the main point is to make an effort. It’s amazing the kind of smiles you can get with a simple thank you in the native language of someone who would otherwise dismiss you as a tourist, a foreigner, or one of those lazy Americans who thinks the whole world speaks English.

And that’s the whole point. To break boundaries and open up communication. To understand each other a little bit more. Even two words more.

So with the arrival of my 30th birthday and a new decade in front of me, I’m making this year the year of 100 languages. Here are the top 100 languages of the world by estimated number of native speakers (thanks to our friends at Wikipedia).

  1. Mandarin
  2. Spanish
  3. English
  4. Hindi
  5. Arabic
  6. Portuguese
  7. Bengali
  8. Russian
  9. Japanese
  10. Punjabi
  11. German
  12. Javanese
  13. Wu
  14. Malaysian/Indonesian
  15. Telugu
  16. Vietnamese
  17. Korean
  18. French
  19. Marathi
  20. Tamil
  21. Urdu
  22. Turkish
  23. Italian
  24. Yue
  25. Thai
  26. Gujarati
  27. Jin
  28. Southern Min
  29. Persian
  30. Polish
  31. Pashto
  32. Kannada
  33. Xiang
  34. Malayalam
  35. Sundanese
  36. Hausa
  37. Odia
  38. Burmese
  39. Hakka
  40. Ukrainian
  41. Bhojpuri
  42. Tagalog/Filipino
  43. Yoruba
  44. Maithili
  45. Uzbek
  46. Sindhi
  47. Amharic
  48. Fula
  49. Romanian
  50. Oromo
  51. Igbo
  52. Azerbaijani
  53. Awadhi
  54. Gan Chinese
  55. Cebuano
  56. Dutch
  57. Kurdish
  58. Serbo-Croatian
  59. Malagasy
  60. Saraiki
  61. Nepali
  62. Sinhalese
  63. Chittagonian
  64. Zhuang
  65. Khmer
  66. Turkmen
  67. Assamese
  68. Madurese
  69. Somali
  70. Marwari
  71. Magahi
  72. Haryanvi
  73. Hungarian
  74. Chhattisgarhi
  75. Greek
  76. Chewa
  77. Deccan
  78. Akan
  79. Kazakh
  80. Northern Min
  81. Sylheti
  82. Zulu
  83. Czech
  84. Kinyarwanda
  85. Dhundhari
  86. Haitian Creole
  87. Eastern Min
  88. Ilocano
  89. Quechua
  90. Kirundi
  91. Swedish
  92. Hmong
  93. Shona
  94. Uyghur
  95. Hiligaynon
  96. Mossi
  97. Xhosa
  98. Belarusian
  99. Balochi
  100. Konkani

Okay, maybe I am a little crazy. I haven’t even heard of half of these languages.

But here’s how it’s going down. I’ll learn hello and thank you in two new languages every week for the next fifty weeks. That’s just four new words a week. So really not crazy at all, right?

If you (or a friend) happen to be fluent in any of these languages and are willing to teach me just two words for five minutes over Skype, send me an email at or use my contact form to get in touch. Seriously! I want to learn from real people if possible, not a robot translator from the Interwebs.

And if you want to learn with me (or just laugh at my struggles), come back every week to see updates on my progress. Perhaps I’ll even test myself on camera if I don’t get too scared. Yikes!

But it will be fun! You might not change the whole world, but you can always change YOUR world. So let’s begin.

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