5. Oranjestad, Aruba
Tucked away just off the coast of Venezuela, this little island of only 100,000 people is also home to four different languages. As the name of the country’s capital would suggest, Dutch is heavily represented here as Aruba is still a part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. In addition, all school children study Spanish and English at school, but the island’s mother tongue has its roots in Portuguese. Papiamento has been officially recognised as the island’s main language since 1999, and is spoken, used and understood by virtually everybody.
4. Kuala Lumpur
The Malaysian capital, popularly known as KL, is rapidly becoming one of the largest financial centres of the Far East, and boasts five widely spoken languages, and several more. Bahasa Malaysia is the city’s main language with nearly 15 million speakers worldwide, but most people in the city can claim proficiency in English as well, with many adopting it as a first language. Mandarin, Cantonese and Hakka Chinese are also all widely spoken amongst the city’s large Chinese community, and KL’s Indians mainly speak Tamil, although Malayalam, Telugu, Hindi and Punjabi are also spoken there.
South Africa is one of the most multilingual countries in the world, and Johannesburg is its beating economic and industrial heart. All 11 of South Africa’s official languages are spoken here, with ten having significant representation. 30% of the city’s 4.5 million inhabitants speak English as a first language, followed by 20% Zulu and 12% Afrikaans. Xhosa, Ndebele, North Sotho, South Sotho, Tswana, Venda and Tsonga can also be found. The ability to speak two, three, four or even five or these languages to varying degrees of fluency is extremely common, although English slips to being the default if all else fails.
21 million people live in this Indian metropolis, making it one of the largest cities in the world. With 16 different languages spoken, it is also one of the most multilingual. Like South Africa, India has many official languages which are represented in its industrial and economic heart. Marathi, Hindi, Gujarati and English are the most commonly used, but increasingly the streets resound with Bambaiya – a blend of Marathi, Hindi, Gujarati, English, Konkani and some invented words.
England is probably the last place that comes to mind when we think of multilingualism. English speakers are infamous antiglots the world over, and many simply assume that British multiculturalism ends at the M25. However, a recent study (2013) by Manchester University has revealed that up to 200 different languages are spoken in the Manchester area. Even more impressive than that, though, is the density of this multilingualism, given the city’s relatively small size. The city’s libraries hold over 20,000 books in foreign languages, which were borrowed 70,000 times in the past year. The most commonly spoken languages after English are Urdu, Arabic, Chinese, Bengali, Polish, Panjabi and Somali, and all of these are highly demanded in the jobs market as well. Positions requiring Arabic, Cantonese, French, German, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Mandarin Chinese, Polish, Portuguese, Panjabi, and others were offered with a salary of between £16,000 to £35,000 per year. So perhaps Manchester really is the most multilingual city in the world! (You can find the study here)