It is estimated that approximately 1.5 billion people around the world speak English, although only about 375 million are native speakers. Of the world’s 195 countries, 67 have English as their first official language, and 27 as their second tongue. There is a similar number of native speakers of Spanish, and, and more than twice as many in the case of Mandarin Chinese. But there is no question as to English’s dominance in terms of extension and influence.
English grammar might be relatively easy (unlike its spelling and pronunciation!), but that is not why it has become the most widely spoken language on the planet. Essentially, the causes are related to business and politics, with a bit of culture thrown in for good measure.
Five hundred years ago, only about 6 million people, nearly all of them living in the British Isles, spoke English. But one hundred years or so later, what was to become the British Empire began to take shape, and soldiers, sailors, missionaries, pilgrims and traders travelled all over the world, taking the English language with them.
At the start of the twentieth century, Queen Victoria reigned over about a quarter of the surface of the globe. Today that Empire is little more than history, but its common language has lived on.
The USA won its independence from Britain 240 years ago, but English triumphed over other European languages employed by the millions who emigrated to the new world, and today around 96% of the population of some 320 million are English speakers. Around 12% of Indians speak English, which is as many as 125 million people. Maybe 80 million people in Nigeria…….30 million in Canada……18 million in Australia……the list goes on!
Two very costly world wars, and its former colonies gaining their independence, resulted in an enormous reduction in Great Britain’s power and the disintegration of the Empire. But as the USA emerged as the world’s superpower, its culture and business influence extended all over the planet and ensured the continued predominance of the English language.
The vast majority of popular music is recorded in English, and nowadays it is possible to watch American TV almost anywhere. Half of the world’s newspapers are in English, and around 55% of the total content of the Internet. It is estimated that up to half of the world’s business deals are conducted in English, and around two-thirds of all scientific papers. And English is the official language of aviation and maritime communications.
So … don’t stop studying!