English as a World Language


English as a World Language

There are an estimated 6000-7000 languages spoken around the world today, each belonging to a group of historically related languages. 

English belongs to the Indo-European language family, and the closest related language to English is Dutch, followed by Danish and German. Notice some of the linguistic similarities in the following sentences to compare how closely related these languages are:  

English: I will never see you again. 

Dutch: Ik zal je nooit meer zien. 

Danish: Jeg vil aldrig se dig igen.

German: Ich werde dich nie wieder sehen. 

Although English is a Germanic language, it has been heavily influenced over the ages, predominantly by Latin and French. Most of this influence has been from the borrowing and integration of vocabulary elements in English with French and Latin. French words like faux pas, deja vu and cliche are a regular part of our vocabulary, and we use Latin words and phrases every day like bona fide, et cetera and alibi.

Linguists commonly define speakers of languages in two divisions: native (first or primary language) speakers and non-native (second language) speakers. Countries like Canada, the United States, England, Australia, Ireland and New Zealand have a majority of native English speakers.  Statistics vary, however, English is estimated to have between 350 – 400 million people who identify as native speakers. That number puts English native speakers below the number of Chinese native speakers and, depending on the statistics used, also below Hindi and/or Spanish native speakers. However, when you combine the number of both native and second language speakers, the number of English speakers rises to the top, with an estimated 1.5 – 1.8 billion speakers worldwide. 

Today, English is regarded as a global common language, or lingua franca, used for many purposes such as print, education, and business. It is the official language in 67 countries and in 27 non-sovereign entities. When a country declares English as an official language, it usually runs the government in this language.  Furthermore, children often learn English in school, even if it is not the language they speak at home, as in nations like India and Pakistan.  Many African countries like Botswana, Cameroon and Ghana have English as the official language as well.  

English is also the official language of many organizations, such as the United Nations and NATO. English is also used for an estimated 80% of the information stored in the world’s computers and is used in half of the world’s technical and scientific periodicals.  Let’s also not forget that social media and entertainment in English are now easily accessed around the world due to the Internet.

To learn more about the history of English, watch the following two videos: History of English Part I and II and  History of English Part III and IV.

As ESL/EFL teachers, it is important for us to be aware of this information, as this is the reason why we exist as a profession, and it will give us insight into where we are able to find work throughout the world.

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