English around the world

English is the most widely spoken language in the world. It does not matter whether you travel to North America, South America, Australasia, Europe, Asia or Africa you will always be able to find English speakers.

There are about 350 million native speakers’ of English and over half are from the USA. Numerically there are more Mandarin speakers in the world with about 1.3 billion people speaking it as a first language, however, some of these people speak a dialect of Mandarin. Spanish is the second language with the most native speakers. Spanish is spoken by over 400 million speakers in countries, spanning South, Central and North America, as well as Africa and Europe.

However, when we take into account the number of non-native speakers of English these figures are dwarfed by the 2 billion second language speakers of English. English is the most common language on the internet with about 60% of the internet being in this language. English is also the most frequently used language for publishing scientific papers with almost 80 % first being written in this language and the vast majority of books are published in this language as well. English is the most common language used in the EE with 67% of the people claiming to speak it well. In china alone 600 million people have learned or are learning English.

English has always been an evolving language and contact with other languages has been an important driver of change. First from Celtic and Latin, later from Scandinavian and Norman French, more recently from the many other languages spoken in the British colonies, the English language has borrowed freely. Some analysts see this hybridity and permeability of English as defining features, allowing it to expand quickly into new domains and explaining in part its success as a world language. English also does not have a governing body like French with the “Académie française” or Spanish with the “Asociación de Academias de la Lengua Española” and this fact has also helped with the rapid expansion of English.

What do all these figures mean for the English language?  For the first time in the history of the world languages, a language is being spoken by more second language speakers than native speakers. This also influences the way the language is spoken, for example, airline pilots now say “tree tousand feet” instead of spending hours mastering the “th” or θ sound. This is because it is a very rare sound in modern languages being used only in Spanish, Arabic, Greek and some Asian languages. In fact, Dr. Dominic Watt, an expert in sociolinguistics, says that this sound will disappear from English due to the foreign influence on the language. 

So as we can see English is a very important world language, however it is no longer being shaped by the Americans and much less so by the British. English from Britain is in fact moving more towards American style English, we American their idioms more often as we listen more to films from Hollywood and American music. As Dr. Watts says we will see a "homogenisation of spoken English, due to multiculturalism, new population centres, and the increasing prevalence of technology in our lives,” over the next fifty years.

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