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Show HN: I made a website that color-codes the world by language (languageworldmap.com)
57 points by florianwueest 9 months ago | hide | past | favorite | 110 comments

Almost the whole of Scandinavia speaks English as a second language, and yet English does not highlight any or the four countries. Most Scandinavian people might agree with this general observation that knowing little to no Nordic language can still get you by very comfortably in that region, although knowing the national language is a plus.

Second, China speaks Mandarin and Cantonese (not available), and several regions have no overlap (script could be same between them). I can understand some Mandarin but Cantonese is alien. That is true for their own people too. Chinese don't speak 'Macau'. I am not even getting into India at this point. That's completely chaotic.

This kind of infographic in broad strokes can sometimes be hurtful to some of the people. Not that I have any strong opinions but OP should know this.

> Almost the whole of Scandinavia speaks English as a second language, and yet English does not highlight any or the four countries. Most Scandinavian people might agree with this general observation that knowing little to no Nordic language can still get you by very comfortably in that region, although knowing the national language is a plus.

Another thing this website miss out on is that, with goodwill on both parts, Scandinavians can usually communicate with other Scandinavians in different languages. I am Norwegian, and if I meet a Swede, we can just talk with each other. I can't talk Swedish fluently, but I can understand Swedish to such a degree that it's no problem to speak with a Swede who is speaking Swedish.

However, this relationship of understanding languages can be asymmetric, and it's not always as easy for a Swede to understand a Norwegian as it is for a Norwegian to understand a Swede.

Check out this video on asymmetric language understanding from NativLang for more about this! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E042GHlUgoQ

This is interesting & its factually true from personal experience. I feel Norwegian is a sister language but bit more complicated than Swedish. Since they have similar roots, the grammar structure is same & it is easy to follow some degree of either. However, the foreign influence on Swedish over ages, has made it phonetically simpler.

The asymmetry exists, but ideas interchange easy enough because of common roots (except Finnish which sounds like Hungarian surprisingly).

> I am not even getting into India at this point.

I'm confused by how this data is being generated. For example, India is tagged with Punjabi, but somehow not Bengali, even though the latter is the second most widely spoken language in India, with about three times as many speakers.

Ironically, Punjabi would be way more useful in Pakistan, where it's actually the most common first language, but Pakistan is tagged only with Urdu (and no other language).

I'm also skeptical of the "physical safety" tags; they seem inconsistent as well in a way that's difficult to reconcile.

OP does not list all the major languages either. I have a feeling that, just the four main southern languages & its dialects will outrank all northern European languages combined (except English technically)

I wonder how the native language correlates with proper English as a learned language.

All of the Scandinavians I spoke about had a wonderful pronunciation of English. They may have had an accent, but the English words were not distorted by their language, and not was the grammar.

On contrast, French often speak what I call a "lazy English". We tend to pronounce words as if they were in French and the structure of the sentence is very similar to French. This really looks like the Latin translations we did at school: translate the sentence word by word and stick the beth eat the end :)

It may be that the Scandinavian languages are more "compatible" with English (wildly guessing, with a lot of hand waving :))

It makes sense when you think about how much of English history is influenced by the presence of Danish raiders and kingdoms. I live near a place called Dane Hill for example.

In the Northern dialects and Scotland there are even more influences. For example in Scots dialect a kirk is a church, etc.

I’ve read that there are at least 900 English words that come from Danish and several hundred more that are suspected to be.[1]

Datter, arm, hus in Danish is daughter, arm and house in English, etc. it’s also why we have often two words with the same meaning (ie. anger and wrath or ill and sick).

  [1]: http://www.englishproject.org/resources/english-language-and-danish-language

Why does Honduras get highlighted for English while Costa Rica does not? Both are marked as "moderate" on English fluency.

A decent proportion of young Scandinavians speak English. Not all of them, and it definitely doesn't extend as a generality to older people.

Eh. That isn't what the comment you replied to is saying. It's enough that it easily puts it with some of the other places that are highlighted as English.

The site says "enter the languages you speak below to see with how many parts of the world you can communicate". Quite misleading.

This is exactly what I came in to come in about. English is a second language is learned in many places, whether from school, business, movies, or song,

From Wikipedia[0]:

Norway: 90%; Sweden: 90%; Denmark 86%.

This is higher than Canada and a number of Anglophone Caribbean islands. Admittedly Finland is lagging at 75%, but we can also consider Iceland at 98%.


I'd seriously call those numbers into question (living in Sweden). Maybe 90% are at an A1 or A2 level.

I'd say maybe 50% are fluent, and that's heavily slanted toward the younger side of the population curve.

Yeah my Swedish ex’s family couldn’t speak hardly any English.

Today is the day that florianwueest learns that "spoken language" is actually a really controversial topic lol

Seriously though, I bet finishing up this project felt great, then posting it to HackerNews was a huge dopamine rush, and now... everybody's just pointing out issues left and right because they accidentally stepped on a dozen landmines that are irrelevant in day-to-day life for 99% of us but entirely relevant when you post to an audience of millions.

My first test was Spanish; when the U.S. didn't highlight, I knew the comment section was going to be a mess.


In my experience a lot of this is quite incomplete. Obviously this uses a dataset like "official languages" of each country.

For example, English would grt you very far in the Netherlands, but its not colored. Dutch can get you quite far in South Africa, but its not colored. English in particular should color most of the globe, except countries like Russia, France, and a few other blatant exceptions.

Agree and think the use of data on what languages are spoken and by how many people would help. This app would be vastly improved by the incorporation of more data in general. At least language differences in the administrative divisions of countries should be reflected. Entering Punjabi gets you all of India, which I am doubtful of. I wanted to see if Malayalam does as well, but it is not in the list. Entering French also gets you all of Canada rather than just Quebec and maybe pockets in New Brunswick and Manitoba. Cantonese is not in the list. It is good though and I don't mean to knock it, only to suggest how it could be extended.

Maybe solid color for officially supported, striped/hashed for "unofficial but would get you pretty far"?

Or just color coded from white to 100% of that color based on the number of speakers in that country. A language being one of the official languages of the country doesn't guarantee that it will be useful in traveling that country, only that it will be useful when interacting with the government.

> except countries like Russia

Can confirm, here it'll be problematic for one to speak in English with anyone younger than 16 / older than 40 and/or outside major population centers. (though in my experience, its the same situation with English in Austria and Russian in Latvia/Lithuania).

Been to Russia a few times the last 2 years, for a total of a few months, and my English was useless. My German was decidedly more useful, even if just to understand Rucksack, Butterbrot and Schlagbaum.

Interesting, I had the same initial thought :)

Languages don't map to countries. For example, I introduced Catalan, and:

- it highlighted all of Spain, even though Catalan is only spoken in some areas

- it didn't highlight Andorra, an country where the only official language is Catalan

- it didn't highlight parts of France and Sardinia where Catalan is also spoken (albeit not officially or with limited recognition)

I happened to run into Viggo Mortensen's card, which claims he speaks 4 languages. He is slow, but I'd say his Catalan is pretty functional! https://www.ccma.cat/catradio/alacarta/el-mati-de-catalunya-...

Where is Catalan spoken in France?

Traditionally the area northeast of the Pyrenees, or around Perpignan to name a city. I'm not sure there are many people that speak it though, I've only ever heard it on regional radio and television channels.

Ha, one learns every day! Thanks a lot - I never knew that.

For reference (Fr): https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pays_catalans

The problem with using official languages and only going country-level is it excludes minority languages that still have tens of millions of speakers across multiple countries.

Yeah, India is done badly by the OP.

india has many languages and many state languages are unique to the state... if i speak my state's language - highly likely i don't speak language of the neighboring state, but OP painted india with one broad brush

Working on it. Will add provinces to the map to add more granularity. Online in ~1 week.

two quick observations:

1. the US isn't included for Spanish, despite the fact that Spanish is the second most spoken language in the United States. Over 41 million people aged five or older speak Spanish at home. Spanish is also the most learned language other than English, with about six million students. Estimates range from 41 million to over 50 million native speakers, heritage language speakers, and second-language speakers.

2. Esperanto which is quite possibly the language spoken in more countries than any other doesn't even exist. Sure with only around 2M speakers we're not the biggest language group, but we're probably the most internationally diverse.

3. the combination of these two makes me unclear on what you mean by "parts of the world you can communicate". Is this just a coloring of what countries legally recognize the language you entered? That's.... not really very useful or reflective of what the user of a site like this wants to know.

> Esperanto which is quite possibly the language spoken in more countries than any other doesn't even exist. Sure with only around 2M speakers we're not the biggest language group, but we're probably the most internationally diverse.

Are there places in the world where you'd start a sentence with "Pardonu, ĉu vi parolas Esperanton?" when you walk into a shop or ask for directions?

Your Esperanto claim is flatly ridiculous. I will happily put money on the claim that there are exactly 0 countries with more Esperanto speakers than English speakers.

English - in China there is more English speakers than in rest of the world so not sure what is criteria (100% of people must speak?) Serbia - missing Croatia / missing Montenegro it is the same language (officially it is called Serbo-Croatian). Slovenia can understand and Macedonia as well ...

Some people might be surprised that you can communicate with the whole of Canada, in French. But not Algeria?

Especially the residents of Canada and Algeria. ;)

Fixed :)

Crimea is not Russia. It's Ukraine. Please get it right.

I thought they voted to be part of Russia?

Good Luck to whoever thinks of getting around in South India by speaking Hindi.

OP, one way to get around the criticism would be to open sourced the database! That way, a lot of these (valid) comments can 1) become actionable and 2) you don’t have to be responsible for it. What you’ve done is a great start, but imagine if one person tried writing all of Wikipedia.

Speaking Norwegian will get you quite far in Sweden and Spanish will get you quite far in Portugal (and Brazil). Perhaps the map could be updated with colours faded by % mutual intelligibility. Also putting Catalan highlights the whole of Spain, not just the Catalan countries...

Collecting some of the points other posters made:

1. Languages don't always neatly map to country borders.

2. Linguistically diverse / multi-ethnic countries can have multiple official languages, and some of those official languages are spoken only in a geographical subset of the country.

3. Languages can be mutually intelligible. Urdu and Hindi are mutually intelligible and you can get by speaking Urdu in most parts of North India. The Balkan languages are largely mutually intelligible - correct me if I'm wrong.

Cute visualization, half-baked idea.

3½. Just because you speak passable German, doesn't mean you can always understand the Swiss (even when they speak Swiss German!).

Even if you speak native German, you will not understand a seizable part of Swiss who will be speaking their language (French, Italian, Romansh)

First thing I checked for was Equatorial Guinea with Spanish selected. It's there! The official languages make that easy. What's trickier is places where a lot of people speak English but it's not an official language.

I'd like to go to Equatorial Guinea. It isn't heavily touristed and requires a visa. Nevertheless I searched it on YouTube and watched some videos and it sounds like an interesting place, and I liked the accent.

The inverse is also tricky: e.g. South Africa has 12 official languages, but that doesn't mean that most people speak all of them.

Indeed. And at least one is missing. I just listened to a BBC podcast episode about Kaaps. https://player.fm/series/the-documentary-podcast-1301446/spe... The Wikipedia page seems to get it wrong. :(

I wonder why French doesn't show Morocco and Algeria? In both countries, some 30-50% of people speak French.

Ah I see, these are just "official" languages. Otherwise probably the whole planet would be highlighted for English.

Highlighting proportions via color intensity would help.

But this information is buried deep down in Google and Facebook and is sometimes outright illegal to disseminate (like in French vs Dutch at the level of Belgian municipalities).

Before Cambridge Analytica scandal Facebook business accounts had access to numbers down to a few thousand with regards to the interface language.

I remember that some 80% of Ukrainians used Russian as interface language in their Facebook, and in Brussels, Dutch was on par with English.

Interface language != spoken language. If you are Ukrainian you might choose an interface in Russian or English for many reasons, familiarity, quality, etc. Maybe they don’t want to context-switch.

For most Ukrainians, Russian is (was?) a happy medium between being a language that they understand, and a language that is well supported in localizations.

I speak en-GB but I prefer an interface in en-US. Yet if you asked me to speak en-US with all its grammatical, lexical and phonological differences intact I would fail because my understanding is read-only.

en_GB vs en_US is largely a locale choice. Many developers in EU choose en_IE to have English translations, €, Monday 1st day of the week and comma as fractional separator.

Ukrainian vs Russian is a cultural choice. I sm sure that 80/20 ratio is old news by now, anyway.

And BTW French had recently been removed as an official language there.

Fixed :)

You'll be easier understood speaking English than you will speaking Arabic in UAE. And trying to prefix "do you speak English?" before asking a question in Netherlands will get you a look like you asked an adult if they know how to tie their shoelaces.

If this is using "official language", America should not be highlighted green for English.

Isn't it that the US do not have any official language?

Using GPI as a proxy for "physical safety" is a bad choice. Physical safety is only a small part of a GPI score. Just use crime rate. That's what people care about - "Will I be the victim of a crime if I travel here".

> North America is more peaceful than the global average on the Safety and Security and Ongoing Conflict domains, but scores poorly on the Militarisation domain, particularly with regards to military expenditure, nuclear and heavy weapons, and weapons exports.


Does the militarization of a country or its capacity to produce nuclear weapons matter as far as a destination for travel though? Genuinely asking.

I don't think so. Unless the country in question is actively at war, their military budget or weapons arsenal does not matter to me as a tourist. Its not like they are going to nuke their own cities.

If anything, I want my travel destinations to have as big a military as possible. As a tourist I don't have to pay for any of the negative externalities of a large military, but would benefit from its protection.

English gets you farther in the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, etc., than it does in India.

Seems to be based on official languages, which does not always reflect ease of communication. Entering "French" highlights all of Canada (rather than just Quebec). Good luck speaking French in British Columbia. Nice looking site tho

This is nice as a demo webapp, but I wouldn't rely on it. To sum up the other comments, you have two possibilities:

- If it shows the language as spoken (=official language) in a country, a significant proportion of the population might still not speak it, e.g. French in Canada (native French speakers mostly in Quebec) or Russian in Estonia (not wanting to learn the language of the former occupying power).

- Even if a language is not an official language in a country, you might still get lucky, e.g. there are a lot of Hungarians in Romania, you can get pretty far with German in places frequented by German tourists, not to mention English.

One thing I noticed - currently the map is dependent on the how the languages are selected. Selecting English first then French second gives a different map compared to selecting French first and English second (Look at Canada in both these cases). I would expect to have the same map if the same languages are selected regardless of selection order. You could argue that your use-case is displaying the possible countries that you can communicate in which the site accomplishes. Why have the different colors based on language, then? Great job on the site in general. It's very straightforward and easy to use.

Found 0 matching results for Yolngu. Found 0 matching results for Yolungu.

Hell, even bird brains can speak Yolngu:


Most impressed me, just non-related to reality map of Russian language. I could more believe, that it is 100% spoken in Bulgaria, or Hungary, than in Ukraine, or in Georgia.

More real current estimate, is 10-40% in East Europe and in Baltic counties, 30% in Georgia and in some other exUSSR states in Asia, and less than 50% in Ukraine.

And I must say, even when few Asia countries claimed to be "USSR Republics", in reality, there survived old Asian totalitarianism of old tribes and they was soviet just for tourists, but for citizens, Asian traditions remain almost unchanged until collapse of USSR.

Crazy how physical safety in the United States is so low, makes sense these days as cars are ubiquitous and frequently in accidents, and people might kill you for economic or mental health reasons.

I’m not sure what it’s based off of, but it seems bogus to me to rank the USA at the same level as Mexico, and lower than many African countries.

I was surprised by that too, but I don't think it makes sense at all. I'm curious as to what those categories are based off.

78 comments. Only 37 points as I type this.

I say this because there's clearly lots of interest (engagement: 78 comments) but people aren't happy with the results (only 37 points).

The first language I typed in was English and right away I could tell it didn't take into account the inroads English has made as a second language. All of Europe (sans UK) is completely blank, for example.

I still bookmarked the site because I'm hopeful that the results will become more accurate over time as the constructive criticisms are addressed.

This is really awesome, thanks for sharing!

I'm from the US and I've traveled to ~10 countries which I didn't speak the native language.

In some countries the locals are able to communicate in English/Spanish, and in others, not so much. What would be interesting to see is what % (or an estimate) of the locals can communicate in one of the languages you know (that's probably a hard problem to solve and not sure if the data is readily available) vs whether it's the official language.

my 2¢: Russian could be assumed as a minority language for all* of ex-USSR countries, so OP missed Armenia/Georgia/Moldova.

Also, it would be interesting to see partial overlap cases (e.g. Ukrainian-Belarussian, Russian-Serbian) where one party could understand another but couldn't answer well except in "universal" sign language (or through switching to another common denominator language); though good luck with researching this one.

Also Tajikistan. Ukrainian-Belarussian has much much higher overlap then Russian Serbian. And lets face it, Ukranians and Belarusians would use Russian when talking to each other (keeping in mind that Belarussian is barely used in Belarus itself).

I'm on Firefox mobile on Android. When I tap on a country and then tap outside the pop-up, focus switches back to the language text box. I would expect focus to stay on the map so I can select another country.

Obviously this whole comment section is focusing on the problem of defining spoken language, but you have created a great proof of concept of an interesting idea. Looking forward to seeing how it evolves.

Looking for an old COBOL community where I can settle on the border and introduce to Perl and mySQL. With no Python communities nearby. Please help.

Cantonese is not in the list… and I bet a bunch of dialect won’t be there as well… this sound rather not completed…

Fixed the cantonese thing :)

The "Celebrities That Speak The Same Number Of Languages As You" is a little bit cringe since it doesn't show you the "celebrities" that show the same exact languages that you speak, which also makes it a little meaningless in my opinion.

I mean, duh, Kim Kardashian does speak English.

Awesome idea!

It's so much more nuanced than this. I spent much time in Turkey and met people from Azerbaijan, Chechnya, and other Central Asian countries. All the Turkic languages are all mutually intelligible.

More localization can be added to highlight official languages with more granularity.

In Florida, I came across spanish speaking people who did not know English. That experience was surreal.

Coming soon!

I don’t think you’ll be able to pull that off because you don’t have such a granular data majority of the time.

For example, Sindhi is a language spoken in just one province. Punjabi is a language native to two provinces in two countries.

United States given the same physical safety level as Mexico and a lower level than most African countries (including South Africa)? What are you basing that off of?

It appears to be based on the Global Peace Index rating, wherein the United States rates juuust below... Haiti.

It has nothing to do with physical safety, obviously.

I guess I can’t fault the site’s creator for going with an established ranking, but after reading what you said and taking a look at the index it seems utterly laughable.

Apparently Singapore has sunk into the ocean.

Fixed :)

They only speak English in Nigeria?

Fixed :)

French is not an official language in Lebanon.

And most people speak Engnlish.

Very interesting application. bug why use language to distinguish the world?

For travelling purposes & if you're a language learner - or generally interested in languages.

Also, it gives you a sense of history - as the languages that countries speak are influenced by past colonization.

Make sense, thank you!

So, apparently Afghans and Iranians don't speak the same language, weird

Bali doesn't speak Bahasa, they speak Balinese.

Where's Andorra and Liechtenstein?

Fixed :)

I just tried it, amazing work mate.

Thanks man!

No love for Piraha and Ainu :(

Piraha: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pirahã_language

> Pirahã is estimated to have between 250 and 380 speakers.

Perhaps it’s there on the map, but we don’t see it, because the dot is so small and hard to find.

cyprus is english, should be greek bro

Fixed :)

I'm just grabbing the popcorn

By knowing English, you can communicate with most of the world, because almost every country teaches English as a foreign language. For example, more than half of the popuation of Europe can easily communicate in English. I've seen that in Netherlands they already prefer English to Dutch when they talk to each other.

I know 3 foreign languages and I think it's a waste of time to learn more, because if a person is not literate enough to communicate in English, I have nothing to talk to them about.

While it's true that most people in the Netherlands speak English (at some level), it's really not true that Dutch people prefer to speak to each other in English when everyone present speaks Dutch.

> if a person is not literate enough to communicate in English, I have nothing to talk to them about.

I agree, I have the same with quantum physics and Middle-Age French.

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