English as an international language

The global spread of English

English is the first language of an estimated 400 million people and another 350 million speak it as their second language. Many more people throughout the world are learning English because of its widespread usage in business, scientific research, in the media (e. g. television, film, and radio), in diplomatic circles and on the Internet. In recent decades English has clearly become the dominant international language.

An international language is one that has spread to be widely spoken across the globe, although it originated in an regionally defined area. Traditionally languages spread through trade, settlement, or colonization of one country by another. Spanish, Arabic, and Chinese are typical examples of languages that spread in this way. English spread with the rise of the British Empire, and the legacy of the British colonial period is still evident in the Commonwealth of Nations (formerly the British Commonwealth), which includes 54 member nations in addition to the British Isles. Nevertheless, the more recent spread of English and its rise as an international language can no longer be explained by territorial expansion. Ever more people are learning English as a second language. In some countries, English has displaced local languages, becoming the native language of people from various ethnic backgrounds.

English as lingua franca

Why is English considered an international language, the current lingua franca of the world? How did it happen that the English language achieved this special status? According to Professor MICHAEL HALLIDAY, English linguist and grammarian,
“one factor that is relevant today is the shift from a goods-and-services economy to an information economy. Information is made of language; so whatever language has become the main medium for software, for information services, is going to be international in that very important sense.”
It is estimated that 70 percent of Internet content is in English.

English has also achieved a special status in diplomatic circles. It is one of the six official languages of the United Nations, and one of two working languages, along with French.

Stand: 2010
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