The World's Least-Spoken Languages

French, German, Spanish. For most American high school students, the concept of "foreign language" rarely radiates beyond these three. As you get older, of course, you realize that the Chinese language alone has more speakers than these (and English) combined, to say nothing of other ubiquitous tongues like Arabic, Hindi and Urdu.

You also realize that there was a reason membership in the Latin Club was so low—who wants to learn a dead language? Not to mention, it's a lot harder to learn a language if you have no one to practice with.

To be sure, while Latin might technically be dead, these "living" languages (as of July 2017, anyway, according to Ethonologue.com) will be much harder to acquire and use in a practical way. Two of them only have a single remaining speaker each!

 

  • 01 of 07

    Taushiro (Peru)

    Morning in the RainForest
    ••• FernandoAH/Getty Images

    The good news? The online greetings database of Jennifer's Language Pages makes clear how to say "hello" in nearly every language of the world, including in Taushiro, which is by all accounts the very rarest.

    The bad news?  Only one person in the world speaks Taushiro as of 2002, so your chances of being able to say "Uñuntero" to anyone are extremely low, even if you happen to find yourself near the Aucayacu River in the Loreto region of Peru, which is where he or she lives (if he or she is still alive).

    If you have a few extra days as you explore the city of Iquitos and the Peruvian Amazon, it might make for an interesting excursion, albeit one that will likely be futile. 

  • 02 of 07

    Tanema (Solomon Islands)

    Kanggava Bay on Rennell Island
    ••• Travelgame/Getty Images

    As is the case with Taushiro, the Tanema language of the Solomon Islands only has one surviving speaker. So what's the reason Peru's Taushiro gets the nod for "Least-Spoken Language in the World" over Tanema, which is found in the South Pacific

    While Taushiro has an "ethnic population" of just 20, about 150 people belong to the ethnic group whose native language was once Tanema, as of 2007, which means that Taushiro is technically more scarcely spoken, even in the number of people fluent in it and for whom it's the main language is identical in both cases.

    You'll have a better chance of finding someone in the Emua village of the Temotu province of Solomon's Vanikolo island who can understand at least some words in Tanema than you would scouring the banks of an obscure Peruvian river.

  • 03 of 07

    Lemerig (Vanuatu)

    High Angle View Of Beach
    ••• Vivid International / EyeEm/Getty Images

    Number three on the list of the world's least-spoken languages is also a language you might (or might not) hear in the South Pacific. The existance of dozens of barely spoken languages isn't surprising here, of course, given the isolation the geography of this region has necessitated for most of its history.

    Lemerig, which also sometimes goes by names like "Bek" and "Sasar," had just two speakers as of 2008. You're mostly likely to hear this language spoken by the villagers who live along the coast of Torba province on Vanua Lava island in Vanuatu. 

    And there's plenty else to do there, from climbing volcanoes, to spotting crocodiles in rivers, to snorkeling amid coastal reefs, so it's not as if a trip there would be in vain, if you decided to take one. Perhaps there's even a Lemerig word for the otherworldly beauty of the South Pacific which, let's face it, leaves a lot of travelers speechless. 

  • 04 of 07

    Chamicuro (Peru)

    Peruvian rain forest and Amazon river reflections
    ••• Mariusz Kluzniak/Getty Images

    The world's fourth least-spoken language takes us back to Peru, which isn't entirely shocking when you consider that Peru is among the countries in the Americans with the highest indigenous populations, in spite of rapid assimilation of them into the country's dominant Spanish-speaking, Catholic culture.

    Chamicuro language is only slightly more spoken than Taushiro, and ranks above Lemerig because its ethnic population is about 100. Like Taushiro, you can find the speakers of Chamicuro in the country's Loreto region, in the jungles near the Peruvian Amazon.

    Most specifically, you'll need to seek them out on Pampa Hermosa, which sits along the Huallaga tributary (which, if we're being realistic, probably has a different name in the Chamicuro language anyway!).

    Continue to 5 of 7 below.
  • 05 of 07

    Njerep (Nigeria)

    Walking Woman
    ••• Irene Becker / Contributor/Getty Images

    Nigeria is one of Africa's most ethnically diverse countries, which makes perfect sense when you consider that it's home to Africa's least-spoken language, and the world's fifth least-spoken language. The Njerep language has just six speakers, and it seems that the ethnic group whose native language was once Njerep is only made up of these same six people.

    Ethnologue classifies this Njerep as "nearly extinct," which is particularly sad when you consider that the figure of six speakers comes from 2000—who knows what could've happened since then?

    This is especially harrowing when you consider that Taraba state, where Njerep is/was spoken, has been the site of widely-publicized and condemned ethnic cleansing by the dominant Mambilla ethnolinguistic group, which numbers almost 100,000. The Mambilla are a very small group when considered globally, but seem huge in population compared to the Njerep.

  • 06 of 07

    Ongota (Ethiopia)

    Ongota in Ethiopia
    ••• Ongota is spoken in remote, southwestern Ethiopia. Stevie Mann

    Heading eastward on the African content takes us to the world's sixth least-spoken language, Ongota, which had just 10 speakers as of 2007, when researchers last traveled to Ethiopia to study it.

    Ongota is a decidedly remote language, spoken in only one village in the remote southwestern part of Ethiopia, which is one of the least-visited places for both foreigners and Ethiopians alike. Specifically, you'll find (or maybe not find) Ongota on the west bank of the Weyt'o River in the Omo zone of the country.

    The moral of the story? If you ever visit Ethiopia and think speaking Amharic is hard, or that the Amharic script is incomprehensible, count yourself lucky. You've got millions of people to practice with! People wanting to learn Ongota can't say the same, to say nothing of the few who try to learn it.

  • 07 of 07

    Liki (Indonesia)

    Papua Coral Reef
    ••• Tip: Don't speak Liki down here. Brocken Ingalory via Wikimedia Commons

    Like the islands of the nearby South Pacific, Indonesia is an archipelago whose peoples were separated for thousands of years. And it's not a huge shock that the Liki language, which was spoken by just 11 people as of 2005, is located in the province of Papua, which is the most remote from the rest of Indonesia.

    You'll have to go pretty far off the beaten path in Papua for your Bahasa Indonesia to stop serving you, let alone to have a chance of encountering any Liki speakers. That's because Liki is spoken on the Liki and Nirumoar islands of Papua's Sarmi regency, which is off the mainland of this already remote island.

    Then again, an expedition to find speakers of the world's seventh least-spoken language might pair nicely with a trip to the paradise islands of Raja Ampat, which are relatively nearby. Just make sure not to try wowing your scuba instructor by speaking to him in Liki, particularly not during crucial portions of a particular dive. Safety comes first!