Languages in India

India is one of the world’s most linguistically diverse nations, with over 18 recognised languages and hundreds of identified dialects.

Below is a list of India’s official languages (as recognised by the Indian Constitution) along with the amount of people they are spoken by and where they are most commonly used (when known/applicable).

  1. Assamese, 15 million – Spoken in Assam
  2. Bengali, 67 million – Spoken in Tripura and West Bengal
  3. Bodo – Spoken in Assam
  4. Dogri – Spoken in Jammu and Kashmir
  5. Gujarati, 43 million – Spoken in Dadra and Nagar Haeli, Daman and Diu, Gujarat.
  6. Hindi, 180 million – Spoken in Andaman, Nicobar Islands, Bihar, Chandigarh, Chhattisgarh, Delhi, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Uttaranchal.
  7. Kannada, 35 million – Spoken in Karnataka
  8. Kashmiri – Spoken by residents of the disputed former state of Kashmir.
  9. Konkani – Spoken in Goa
  10. Maithili, 22 million – Spoken in Bihar
  11. Nepali – Spoken in Sikkim
  12. Oriya, 30 million – Spoken in Orissa
  13. Punjabi, 26 million – Spoken in Punjab
  14. Sanskrit – This historical language is the main liturgical language of Hinduism and the scholarly language of Buddhism.
  15. Santali, 6 million – Spoken in Jharkhand, Assam, Odisha, Bihar, West Bengal and Tripura. Also spoken in Nepal, Bangladesh and Bhutan.
  16. Sindhi – Official language of the province of Sindhi. Spoken in India and Pakistan.
  17. Tamil, 66 million – Spoken in Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry
  18. Telugu, 70 million – Spoken in Andhra Pradesh
  19. Urdu, 46 million – Spoken in Jammu and Kashmir

Hindi is by far the most commonly spoken of these languages, and as most schools ensure that children learn Hindi as well as their regional dialect you will probably be best off learning Hindi if you intend to move to India – particularly if your employment has you moving around the nation!

Hindi, and many of India’s other languages, are structured using the Devanagari alphabet. This alphabet is written from left to right with each letter representing a single vowel or consonant and was originally used in the writing of Sanskrit.

Learning to Speak the Language

If you plan on living and working in India then learning the language will hugely improve your career prospects and allow you to get much more out of the country socially. A willingness to at least try learning the language spoken in your host nation will also make a big difference to how locals perceive you.

How rapidly you are able to learn a foreign tongue depends on how much commitment you give the endeavour. If you want to speak fluently it will require constant practice and complete emersion in the language.

Mingling with locals, participating in a language exchange, watching Indian television and practising with friends are all brilliant ways of using your spare time to absorb and learn. It’s also a good idea to speak your native language as little as possible, the more you have to rely on the foreign language to communicate the more quickly you will learn to speak it properly!

But while constant practise is fantastic, some people find they can only learn with formal instruction. There are Indian universities and private language schools which offer lessons, but cost and time commitment can vary significantly so doing a bit of research can really pay off. Private one-on-one classes are often the best way to learn quickly, but these are usually quite pricey.

In the end it’s entirely a matter of preference and circumstance as to whether you decide to learn at a steady pace over a long period of time or engage in intensive classes.