Audience figures for the BBC World Service have reached a record 163 million a week.
Director Nigel Chapman praised an "outstanding achievement"
The figure is 14 million higher than last year and beats the previous record of 153 million listeners in 2001.
The rise came despite the BBC axing 10 foreign language radio services last year, mostly in eastern Europe.
BBC World Service director Nigel Chapman said the figures were an "outstanding achievement" in a fiercely competitive industry.
The World Service broadcasts in more than 30 languages and is undergoing change as it moves from using old transmitters to FM stations and the internet.
The number of people listening in English has risen by three million to 42 million a week, according to the figures from independent surveys.
The BBC's British Affairs correspondent Stephen Evans says that is partly because the BBC is now broadcast by other FM radio stations around the world.
Mr Chapman said it was also because people turned to the BBC as a trusted service, particularly in trouble spots.
He said the figures were a "strong and welcome indication that we are not only strengthening our impact in priority areas but are flourishing in the multimedia age".
Areas showing a particular increase included Nigeria, Indonesia, Kenya, India and Nepal.
Two countries showing big falls were Pakistan and Bangladesh. Audiences in the latter fell by 4.4 million to 8.6 million in the last year.
The BBC said the losses were due to lack of FM frequencies.
Last October the BBC announced the closure of its Bulgarian, Croatian, Czech, Greek, Hungarian, Kazakh, Polish, Slovak, Slovene and Thai services.
The money saved is to fund an Arabic TV news channel, to be launched next year.