November 12, 2021
With over 1.35 billion native English speakers and second language speakers, English is the most spoken language in the entire world… even beating out the colossal Mandarin. Now, why is that? How has a language from a small island nation become a dominant language spoken across the world?
The answer to this question is actually simple: colonialism. The British Empire was once the world’s largest empire, encompassing over a quarter of the world’s entire landmass. This empire spanned the globe and was every single continent.
This large spread of land was hard to control, especially due to communication issues. Communications took time to reach recipients and there were hundreds of native languages in use across the empire. In order to somewhat communicate with its subjects, Britain enforced learning English & English speaking throughout the empire as a global language.
The level of English achieved in the various places was varied and not equally enforced. Pidgin languages were often developed instead of people learning standard English, for example in New Guinea, these pidgin languages would eventually become their own hybrid languages known as Creoles with English as the base of them.
The enforcement of English upon native people could be quite brutal, as seen in Ireland where they would fine non-English speakers heavily, beat children for speaking Irish, and would not make efforts to understand Irish, leading to the wrongful hanging of Maolra Seoighe in 1882.
This worldwide empire set the foundations for why English is so widely spoken throughout the world many centuries ago. Today the drive for English is different, as America is the prominent reason for English use in the modern world. After world war 2, America put many financial plans such as the Marshall plan in place throughout the world to help recovering nations rebuild.
These initiatives would lead to a positive view of America and the drive to learn English to communicate with Americans, especially as they had become a superpower nation, that liked to promote capitalism. Companies conducting business with the United States primarily used English as the language of business.
This trickled down into education, as students from countries all over the world who want to get high-paying jobs in businesses understood that the wealthiest businesses tend to be American or have American connections, making English language skills a valuable asset over other foreign languages.
Furthermore, America has the most highly distributed media in the world with more than 700 English language films released on average every year plus a large number of television shows and musical creations, all of which are distributed around the globe. Americans also make up the third largest number of users of the Internet, creating websites and content in English. This leads to people learning the language through this content and through popular culture such as movies, television, and music.
To conclude, English is so widely spoken throughout the world due to the United Kingdom's colonial past and the American influence on modern popular culture, mass media, and business. English is a language that should definitely be on your radar to learn, as it is an invaluable tool to use in business and in everyday life as you will be able to communicate with many different people!
Liam is the digital marketing apprentice working for Lingua Fonica. He speaks English fluently and has studied English language for his A-Level qualification, providing him with knowledge surrounding the formation of words and the origins of the English language.