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The top 10 most multilingual cities in the world – Pt. 1

Following on from the feature a while back about countries where you need more than English to get by, this time (by request) we’re talking about cities that give the average polyglot a run for their money. In these places the majority of the population speaks at least two languages and does so every day.

Some may be surprised to see obvious choices such as New York and London missed off the list. Although it’s true that there are hundreds of languages spoken in those two global metropolises, the majority of the population of each remains firmly monolingually Anglophone, so for our purposes unfortunately they don’t count.

While this list may be far from exclusive, it does give a pretty nice idea of how widespread multilingualism around the world can be. Take a look, and see where made the cut:

10. Barcelona This Mediterranean metropolis is unique in being almost entirely bilingual, with Spanish understood universally and Catalan understood by more than 95% of the population. Catalonia’s education system also ensures that all children leave school entirely bilingual in both languages, and as a result has been praised by organisations such as UNESCO for its success in fostering social cohesion in the region. Official signage is entirely in both languages, and both can be heard across all parts of the city.

9. Macau Following on from its history as a Portuguese colony, Macau nowadays is a trilingual city with high rates of comprehension in Cantonese, Mandarin and Portuguese. Cantonese is the most commonly spoken home language, but most residents also converse fluently in the other two. There are increasingly high levels of proficiency in English as well.

8. Jerusalem The holy city for three of the world’s main religions is also home to at least three languages. Hebrew is spoken by the Israeli population found mainly in the west of the city, but is also very widely understood and spoken amongst the Arabic-speaking Palestinian population in the east. In addition, there is also extremely high rates of English proficiency, and due to the city’s large immigrant population Russian, French, Spanish, Armenian and Amharic are not uncommon either, with Yiddish spoken by many Orthodox Jews.

7. Luxembourg Nestled in the heart of Europe between four other countries, it’s not surprising that this microstate is very multilingual. Luxembourgish, French, German and English are all spoken with roughly the same level of fluency in each. Portuguese, Italian, Polish and Turkish are also spoken amongst immigrant communities.

6. Singapore The government of Singapore recognises four official languages: English, Malay, Mandarin and Tamil. Singapore also has a bilingual education policy, meaning that all Singaporeans are fluent in English and at least one other official language. The local Creole language Singlish is also widely spoken and understood, despite not being officially recognised as such, as well as over 20 other languages spoken by immigrants in this global city on the edge of the equator.


Come back next week for the second part of this countdown!

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