English is a global language spoken widely around the world with approximately 380 million native speakers and over 700 million who speak it as a foreign language.[i]
It is spoken as the mother tongue in the USA, Britain, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, South Africa and many Caribbean countries. Additionally, it is the official language, or has some kind of a special status in over seventy countries, including India, Singapore, Nigeria, Ghana and Vanuatu.[ii]
As a foreign language, English is mostly used for business, official interactions and pleasure. According to the British Council, there were 750 million speakers of English as a foreign language and 375 million English speakers who spoke it as a second language.[iii] When we add about 380 million native speakers to this number, we find that an estimated over 1.5 billion people worldwide speak English. Furthermore, consider that there are over 1.5 billion people around the world who are learning the language (as of 2014)[iii] and the expanse of the English language becomes colossal.
Here are some facts about English that reinstates its global status:
- There are 1.5 billion English language learners worldwide.[iv]
- About ¼ of the world’s population is fluent or competent in English[ii]
- As many as ¾ of the world’s mail, cables and telexes are in English.[i]
- English is the most widely spoken language in the world.
English – The Language of Learning
A parameter to judge the popularity of a language is to know if it is taught in schools. English is today being taught as a foreign language in over 100 countries.[ii] The English language has become so important that it is replacing other language such as French. In Algeria, for example, which was a French colony, English has replaced French as the main foreign language being taught in schools.[ii]
Since the demand for English learning is growing rapidly, there is an increasing scarcity of qualified English language instructors. According to David Gradol, a leading expert in English language education policy, “The lack of qualified English language instructors presents one of the largest challenges to educators and citizens across the globe.”[iv]
In countries like India where English is an official language, native English-speaking teachers are being called to stay and teach English to children and adults. As more and more businesses across the globe enter into international partnerships, there is expected to be further acceleration in the demand for English learning.
English & Global Communication
Be it social media, traditional media or other remote interactive platforms, English is the main language of communication with millions across the globe using it for work and pleasure. Since the Internet originated in the United States, it is only natural that most of online communication takes places in English. Moreover, the English language is used in 80% of the information stored in the world’s computers.
There are four main factors that determine which language finds dominance on the Internet. These are:
- Its worldwide users
- If the language is used officially
- If the language has economic power
- The amount of information communicated in that language.
Used widely around the world in written and verbal communication, English is the international language both online and in the real world.
Future Growth of English Language Learning
Due to globalisation, there is expected to be rapid growth in English learning in the future. It is predicated that the number of English learners for second/foreign language will be nearly 2 billion by 2020.[iii] That is double the current figures.[iii] This increase in demand is partly owing to increased communication between people of different countries, both official and informal.
For improved job prospects, international business dealings and casual interactions over the Internet, knowledge of English has become indispensable. Realizing this, more and more children and youth are now actively learning English in schools and private language learning institutes. Not only individuals and businesses, entire nations have achieved economic growth by encouraging their citizens to learn English. Countries such as Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia stressed on English language learning to achieve economic growth and prosperity.
There is a clear link between a language’s popularity and the economic dominance of the people who speak it. Since English is native to countries that hold economic power, it is believed that with time the language will continue to see an increase in use around the world, with more people seeking to learn it for communicating across nations and cultures.