Learning the Languages of India


India is a very diverse country, geographically, culturally, religiously and linguistically. Some of the languages in India are popular on a national level, while others are regional. Most of the languages have ancient routes, such as Indo-Aryan, Dravidian, Austro-Asiatic and Tibeto-Burman. There are a handful of isolated languages, but they are not very mainstream.

Each state in India has its official language, besides Hindi and English, and there are a few hundred mother tongues. Sanskrit, the ancient Indian language, has ceased to be used colloquially in the modern day world, but it is one of the oldest recorded languages in the world. Expats who relocate to India may be fine just knowing Hindi and English in certain areas, but will have to learn regional languages in others.


Hindi is the official language of India, and is the mother tongue of about one fifth of the country’s population; there are about 487 million speakers. This language is mostly condensed in the north, in an area called the “Hindi-belt,” or “cow-belt.” There are many different accents and versions of Hindi, but most Indians have some functional knowledge of how to communicate with this language.


After Hindi, English is second as an official language, and is used for many authoritative and legislative procedures. Indian English comes from the period of British colonialism of the country, but there are fewer than one million people who identify English as their mother tongue. English is a very popular second or third language for Indians, however. There are many different accents of Indian English, but the vocabulary is fairly uniform.


Bengali is the official language of West Bengal, and is spoken by over 200 million people in West Bengal and in Bangladesh.


Punjabi is the official language of the state of Punjab, and there are about 88 million native speakers. It is the central languages of the Sikhs and is very common in Pakistan. There are many different dialects of Punjabi, which is an Indo-Aryan language.



Urdu is the official state language of Jammu and Kashmir, and is spoken by about 28 million Indians (and 104 million people). It has the same routes as Hindi, but takes more influences from Persian and Arabic, and is written in Persio. Urdu is also a central language of the country of Pakistan.


Tamil is the official language of the state of Tamil Nadu, and is a very old Dravidian language with known inscriptions before 500 BC. Today, there are over 73 million speakers of Tamil, some of which also live in Sri Lanka and Malaysia.


Sindhi is mostly spoken in the northwest area of India, and is an Indo-Aryan language. It is also the third most common language in Pakistan, where there is a region called Sindh.


Telugu is the official language of Andhra Pradesh, and it dates back to the first century AD. It has Dravidian routes.


Oriya is the official language of Orissa, and it has Indo-Aryan routes. It is similar to Bengali and Assamese, and there are a few different dialects of Oriya.


Assamese is the official language of Assam, and is spoken by over half of that state’s population, and also in parts of the Brahmaputra Valley. It is the most eastern of the Indo-Aryan languages. Assamese sounds like Bengali, and the languages are extremely similar.


Gujarati is an Indo-Aryan language, and is the official language of Gujarat, spoken by about 70% of its population. It is also common in the states of Maharashtra and Rajasthan. It is one of the easier languages to learn, as it is clear and concise.


Marathi is the official language of the state of Maharashtra, and is concentrated in the west and center of India. It is believed to be 1300 years old, having evolved out of Sanskrit. It is the fourth most spoken Indian language. There are 42 different dialects of this language alone!


Kashmiri is concentrated around the Kashmir Valley, and about half of the people in the state of Kashmir speak it. There are also some speakers of Kashmiri in Pakistan.


Kannada is a Dravidian language of Karnataka, and is spoken by about 65% of that state’s population. Contemporary Kannada literature is the most successful in India.


Bodo comes from Assam-Burmese routes, and is mainly spoken by the Bodo people in Assam, in northeast India.


Dogri is an Indo-Aryan language, which is spoken in parts of Jammu, and also in Northern Punjab and in Pakistan.



Manipuri is commonly called “Meitei,” and it is the official language of the state of Manipur, which is in the Himalayas.


Malayalam is used mostly in Kerala, which is a state full of intellectuals and has a high literacy rate. It is a Dravidian language that stems from the 10th century. It is also written in an Arabic script by some Muslims. It is spoken by almost 36 million people, and it derived from ancient Tamil.

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