- World English
English is the most widely spoken language in the world. It is the first language, or mother tongue, of around 400 million people living in Britain, Ireland, the US, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and South Africa, and it is spoken as a second language by millions more. English is learned by many more people worldwide as a foreign language. English has become a global language or international language, used by people who speak different native languages to communicate with each other.English has achieved the status of a world language over a long period of time, and for various historical and cultural reasons. In the 17th century English was spread by settlers going from Britain to America, and in the 18th and 19th centuries by the expansion of the British Empire. Many countries which were part of the empire kept English as their official language after independence. This avoided their having to choose between competing local languages. As an official language, English is generally used in government, public administration and the law, and children may be taught in English. Some countries feel that using English gives them an advantage in international affairs. More recently, the military and political power of the US has contributed to the spread of English. People in many countries who have had contact with these great powers have been expected to learn English. Since the middle of the 20th century, English has been an official language of international organizations such as the United Nations.Economic factors are also important. Britain and the US are both major business and financial centres, and many multinational corporations started in these countries. Elsewhere, a knowledge of English is often seen as necessary for success in business, and in countries which have become tourist destinations English has been chosen as the main foreign language used in hotels and at tourist attractions.Advances in technology and telecommunications have also helped to establish English as a global language. Many inventions important to modern life, e.g. electricity, radio, the car and the telephone, were developed in Britain or the US. English became the language for international communications in air traffic control and shipping. Now, major computer systems and software developers are based in the US, and English is the lingua franca (= common language) of the Internet. English is also spread through leisure activities. The US is the home of the cinema, and English language films are shown throughout the world.Britain and the US have invested a lot of money in English Language Teaching (ELT). The British Council has offices worldwide which promote British culture and support the teaching of English. The United States Information Agency also has libraries and cultural programmes in many countries. English language broadcasts of BBC World Service, Voice of America and other services are widely popular, and many people listen to their news broadcasts in order to get an independent account of events in their own region. They also broadcast study programmes for learners of English. ELT has become a growth industry. Language schools have been established throughout the world and publishers bring out many new books for students.As an international language, English continues to develop. People who speak English as a first or second language have their own variety of the language, each of which is changing independently of other varieties. There are many differences, for instance, between British English and American English, and between Australian, South African, Indian, African and Jamaican English, though all can be understood, more or less, by speakers of other varieties. Foreign learners of English learn one of the major varieties, usually British or American English, or some sort of international English. As a global language, English can no longer be thought of as belonging only to British or American people, or to anyone else. This loss of ownership is often uncomfortable, especially in Britain. As the number of people using English as a second or foreign language is increasing faster than the number who speak it as a first language, further drifts away from a British or American standard are likely.The status of English as a global language has unfortunately tended to mean that British and American people assume everyone speaks English, so they do not bother to learn foreign languages. However, better language teaching, and an awareness of the advantages of speaking another language, are slowly changing this situation.
* * *