How Many People Speak Russian, And Where Is It Spoken?

The Russian language is kind of a big deal in the global scene — statistically speaking. Here’s a numerical case for why you might want to put some Russki in your back pocket.
How Many People Speak Russian, And Where Is It Spoken?

Ever wondered just how far the Russian language has spread its roots? From Moscow to Moldova, we take a look at just how many people speak Russian in the world.

A Brief History Of The Russian Language

Like the overwhelming majority of European languages, Russian can trace its origins all the way back to its Indo-European roots. Eventually, as the Slavic tribes began to settle in eastern Europe, their language began to differentiate into what is currently considered the Proto-Slavic tongue in the Early Middle Ages, which gave rise to the Slavic family of languages.

Russian is one of the existing three main languages within the East Slavic sub-family, but it didn’t emerge as its own distinct tongue until the late Middle Ages. Standard Russian (based on the Moscow dialect) became the official language in the mid-1800s. Previously, East Slavic was essentially the same as “Old Russian” — the prototype of modern-day Russian, Ukrainian and Belarusian.

Where In The World Is Russian Spoken?

Russian is the official language of Russia, Belarus, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan, and it’s considered an unofficial lingua franca in Ukraine and many former Soviet countries. These include Azerbaijan, Estonia, Georgia, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. There’s also a notable contingent of Russian-speakers in Cyprus, Finland, Hungary, Mongolia, Poland, China, the United States and Israel.

Essentially, if you’re anywhere in Eastern Europe, you can probably wing it with some basic Russian in your back pocket.

How Many People Speak Russian In The World?

According to Ethnologue, there are around 258 million Russian speakers in the world. This estimate is likely high, however, because it factors in many populations that are ancestrally Russian, but which might not speak the language anymore. Counting only native speakers, there are roughly 153 million.

here were roughly 166 million native Russian speakers in the world, placing it at number eight in the list of most widely spoken languages in the world. Among first languages, Russian accounts for 2.3 percent of the global population.

How Many People Speak Russian In The US?

The Russian language first touched the shores of the modern-day United States in the 18th century, when Russian explorers arrived in Alaska. Since this time, various groups of immigrants have scattered across the United States.

Today, there are roughly 900,000 Russian speakers in the United States out of our total population of 297 million, according to 2011 census data. The state of New York is home to the majority of Americans who speak Russian, with roughly 30 percent of the population. There are also over 110,000 Russian speakers in California, followed distantly by New Jersey and Illinois, which each have about 40,000 Russian speakers.

How Many People Speak Russian In Europe?

Russian is the most geographically widespread language in all of Eurasia, and it’s the most popular native language in Europe. Russian speakers number roughly 138 million in Russia, followed in popularity by Ukraine (14.3 million), Belarus (6.9 million), Poland (6.9 million) and Kazakhstan (3.8 million).

All in all, there are close to 221 million Russian speakers in Europe, give or take.

How Many People Speak Russian In The Rest Of The World?

Like many European countries, Russia went through a period of colonization that led to the subjugation of people in Africa. While Russia no longer has an official presence on the continent, Africa is still home to large groups of Russian speakers. Azerbaijan could have up to 4.9 million Russian speakers, though only a small fraction of those are native speakers. Similarly, Estonia has a Russian-speaking population around 1.1 million.

Beyond that, there are populations of Russian speakers that appear all over the world because of historical immigration patterns, as well as modern political and economic reasons. Israel houses a sizable Russian-speaking population, with roughly a million Russian speakers, while nearby Turkey has around 600,000. China has up to 700,000 speakers, almost all of which speak it as a second language. Australia has up to 120,000 Russian speakers, Canada has about 530,000 and even South America has a few pockets, with about 14,000 speakers in Uruguay and maybe around 30,000 in Argentina.

How Many People Speak Russian On The Internet?

The internet is not a country, certainly, but it’s worth mentioning that Russian plays an outsized role online. As of 2013, it became the second most widely used language online — used on 6 percent of all websites. That places Russian just slightly ahead of German, but significantly behind English. At this rate, you might as well strike while the iron is hot and get your Odnoklassniki account now (it’s basically Facebook for Russians).

Why Learn Russian?

Well, who hasn’t wanted to labor their way through War and Peace in its original form?

Besides being extremely useful for conjuring a romantic, world-weary affect, Russian remains the most important common denominator for inter-ethnic communication in Eastern Europe. Plus, as mentioned above, it’s the largest native language in Europe. Period.

And even if you don’t intend to visit the former Eastern Bloc anytime soon, it’s still pretty cool to be able to pronounce “Raskolnikov” correctly.

This article was originally published on August 29, 2017. It has been updated to reflect newer facts and figures about the Russian language.

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Author Headshot
Steph Koyfman
Steph is a writer, lindy hopper, and astrologer. She’s also a language enthusiast who grew up bilingual and had an early love affair with books. She has mostly proved herself as a New Yorker, and she can introduce herself in Swedish thanks to Babbel. She also speaks Russian and Spanish, but she’s a little rusty on those fronts.
Steph is a writer, lindy hopper, and astrologer. She’s also a language enthusiast who grew up bilingual and had an early love affair with books. She has mostly proved herself as a New Yorker, and she can introduce herself in Swedish thanks to Babbel. She also speaks Russian and Spanish, but she’s a little rusty on those fronts.

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