Have you ever wondered how many people there are who speak English? It’s quite a great number! The exact figure is impossible to count, but it is about 600 million!!! Geographically, English is the most widespread language on the Earth, and it is a second only to Chinese in the number of people who speak it. 300 million people living in more than 60 countries speak English as their second language.
If you add to this the enormous number of people who learn and speak English (like yourself), you will realize that English is indeed a “world language”.
Over 300 million people speak it as a mother tongue. The native speakers of English live in Great Britain, the USA, Australia and New Zealand. English is one of the official languages in the Irish Republic, Canada, the South Africa Republic.
There are over 3000 languages in the world. So why has English become so widely spoken?
From about 1600, explorers, adventurers, settlers and soldiers went out from Britain to found settlements and colonies overseas. They took the English language with them. At the height of their power, during the 19th century, the British could claim that the sun never set on their Empire. Today almost all the countries of the old Empire have become independent. However, most of them are now members of the Commonwealth of Nations, and English continues to be an important language for them. After the Second World War the United States became what Britain had been in the 19th century: politically and economically the most powerful nation in the world. As its power spread, so the English language spread. Finally, with the development of computer technology and the explosion of information, English truly became a global language.
Firstly, English is the language of the information age. Computers talk to each other in English. Also, more than 80 percent of information of any kind (scientific, commercial, personal) is stored and exchanged in English. Over two thirds of the world’s scientists write in English and three quarters of the world’s mail is written in it.
Moreover, business and trade can’t exist now without English. It is the official language of international aid organizations such as Save the Children Fund as well as of UNESCO, NATO and the United Nations.
Besides, English is the main language of international travel, airports and air-traffic control; it dominates international politics, medicine, sports, pop music and advertising.
Varieties of English
As so many people speak English in so many different countries, there are many different “Englishes”. The best form of English is called Standard English and it is the language of educated English speakers. It is used by the Government, the BBC, the Universities and it is often called Queen’s English.
American English is the variety of English spoken in the United States of America. It is different from English in pronunciation, intonation, spelling, vocabulary and sometimes even in grammar. An Englishman goes to the town centre to see a film while an American goes downtown to see a movie. If an Englishman needs a pen he would ask you: “Have you got a pen, please?”, but an American would say: “Do you have a pen?”.
Australian and New Zealand English, also called Australian English, is very similar, especially in pronunciation. It is also similar to British English, but there are differences in vocabulary and slang. Many terms, such as kangaroo, dingo, wombat and boomerang, come from the Aboriginal language and many others from the Cockney dialect spoken by the first settlers, the Londoners.
Canadian English is different both from American English and from British English. It is said to sound like American to Britons and like British to Americans. In pioneer days Canadians borrowed many words from Canadian French, for example bateau and habitant; from the native Indian languages came many terms like caribou and totem, and from Eskimo, Canadian English acquired anorak, Inuit, igloo, kayak and others.