Did you know that despite English’s unofficial position as the language of business, it is only spoken as a first language in a relatively small number of countries?
That said, it is the official language of choice in a number of countries and is widely spoken as a second language in many others.
So how many people really speak English and where is it spoken?
- How many people speak English?
- Which countries recognise English as an official language?
- Where can we find native English speakers?
How many people speak English?
About 1.35 billion people on Earth (population: 7.8 billion) speak English. That’s more than 15% of the world’s total population!
No wonder it’s regarded as the most spoken language in the world. As a result, it is one of the six official languages of the United Nations, The European Union (despite the fact that only two countries are native speakers) and many more international organizations and businesses.
The rise in popularity and importance of English is most clearly visible in the EU. In the mid-seventies, French was the dominant language.
However, with the membership of Finland and Sweden in the 1990s and Central and Eastern European countries in the 2000s, English took over as the dominant language and is now one of the three key languages in the EU, along with French and German.
Waves were made when Britain announced that it would be leaving the EU. Questions arose among some as to whether English would continue to be an official language post-Brexit.
However, as English is now considered a Lingua Franca, meaning a common or trade language, and the majority of employees within the system rely heavily on it, it is very unlikely to be removed from its position of prominence.
Which countries recognise English as an official language?
As a result of Britain’s extensive colonization, from the Americas to Africa and further afield to Asia, English has become the official language of certain countries by default.
From places like Kenya, Uganda, Ghana, India, Pakistan, Singapore and the Philippines, English is recognized as the official, though it is not necessarily the primary, language spoken among the populace.
For these countries through their long history with Britain, it made sense to have English as the official language of communication on the international stage and in commerce.
Let’s not forget about the number of people learning English as a second language. According to the British Council, 1 billion people could be learning English at any one time, such is its popularity.
Where can we find native English speakers?
Here’s another fact about the English language: Approximately 379 million people speak English as a first language.
The USA is home to the largest number of native English speakers. The other obvious territories are the United Kingdom (England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland), the Republic of Ireland, Australia, New Zealand and Canada.
From there we step predominantly into the former territories of the British colonies. Approximately 30 more countries speak English natively, many of which were colonized by the British empire.
From Anguilla to Gibraltar to British Indian Ocean Territory, these countries not only speak but recognise also English as their official language.
Other countries include Trinidad and Tobago, Guam, The United States Virgin Islands, Jamaica, Guyana and more.
What is the future of the English language?
Simply put, the future looks bright. Since the early 20th century, English’s cultural impact has continued to grow globally. From the inception of Hollywood in the 1920s to the aftermath of the Second World War.
Despite this war seeing a depletion in the number of British colonies, it appeared to have an opposite effect on the popularity of the English language.
Finally, with the dawn of the internet, English appropriation and cultural understanding have spread to even the tiniest corners of the world.
Being spoken by more than 1.35 billion people in the world, the dominance of the English language continues to rise.