According to some estimates, English is spoken by around 400 million people as a first language and by another 500 million to 1 billion as a second language. More than half of English speakers live in the United States, followed by some 60 million in the United Kingdom and 25 million in Canada.
The map above shows countries in which English is the first language of the majority of population (dark blue). These are: the US, the UK, Canada, Australia, Ireland and New Zealand. But English still continues to hold a key role in the majority, if not all of the former colonies of the British Empire, where it is typically the language of business and administration (light blue).
Sometimes, even though it is not the most spoken language, it is still an official language of the country. Among others, this is so in Hong Kong, India, Kenya, Malta, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, South Africa and Zimbabwe. By and large, English is either the official language or one of the official languages in almost 67 sovereign states and 27 non-sovereign entities.
The most proficient
Looking specifically at the example of Europe, around 38% of all its citizens declare a working knowledge of English as a second language, as compared to 14% in cases of German and French. Interesting enough, according to the EF Education First, an international education company that specialises in language training and academic degree programmes, the first 10 countries in the whole world to score the highest rank in terms of their adult English proficiency are all in Europe. These are (in the order of proficiency): Sweden, the Netherlands, Denmark, Norway, Finland, Slovenia, Estonia, Luxembourg and Poland. The graphs below, also prepared by the EF, might be quite astounding for some of you when you compare the level of English proficiency in Europe and around the globe.
Figure 1: English proficiency index in Europe (source: EF Education First, 2015)
Figure 2: English proficiency index in Latin America (source: EF Education First, 2015).
Figure 3: English proficiency index in Asia (source: EF Education First, 2015)
Figure 4: English proficiency index in theMiddle East and North Africa (source: EF Education First, 2015)
Do I need to add anything else? You might prove me wrong, yet when it comes to international dealings, English is the language of all continents. But it is typically also one of the official languages of various international organisms, including the United Nations, the International Olympic Committee and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. Not surprisingly therefore, more often than any other world language, English has been used between governments as a common tongue for the conduct of their official relations and business. This is particularly well seen on the example of the European Union, where English remains to be the most commonly spoken foreign language among the officials from all 28 countries of the organisation, although it is only one of the three working languages within the Union’s structures (followed by French and German). No wonder that in 2014, the EU founded one of its new top officials a foreign language course in English on the condition that he would study for at least 5 hours per day.
Now, has anything here surprised you enough to start studying English like never before? We cannot deny that it is the language of the future and it all depends on us how we handle it. English and the future, that is. And just in case you were interested to dwell on more remarkable facts, in my next article I will show what the influence of English is in other areas of life, including science and entertainment. Stay tuned and see you around!
- Skurzak, M. (2016) English around the globe – MARCIN SKURZAK LANGUAGE TRAINING. Available at: http://bit.ly/2g3Qkob (Accessed: 18 November 2016).