Go anywhere in the world and you’ll find someone who speaks English. But when and why did English become the de facto tongue for communities as far apart as the UK and French Polynesia? Let’s find out.
1. It’s the most commonly spoken language in the world
Depending a bit on how you count, in addition to the approximately 400 million native speakers, English is understood and/or spoken by around 1.6 billion people. With over a quarter of the world speaking the language, there’s always someone to practice with.
2. It’s the language of international business
With world business headquarters predominantly in the financial hubs of the UK and USA, English has long been the default language of trade. It might also be, in part, due to English-speakers not being the first to want to learn another language, and well, you have to find common ground with people from all over the world somehow, don’t you?
3. Most movies are in English
Hollywood is a powerhouse of global entertainment, so it’s natural that English would become the main language for movie-making. Sure, the movies are often dubbed over – but they’re really best enjoyed in the language in which they were intended.
4. It’s easy to learn
This is debatable depending on who you speak to, but it’s generally accepted that English isn’t the most taxing language to get to grips with. The vocabulary is simple to grasp and its relation to lots of other languages means speakers of those languages can see where concepts in English originated from. Which reminds me…
5. It’s related to loads of other languages
English has a long and fascinating history that spans wars, invasions and influences from around the globe. Cultures that have helped shape modern English include Romans, Vikings and the French. For this reason it’s a hybrid language comprised of Latin, Germanic and Romance elements.
6. You can say things in a hundred different ways
One of English’s best assets is its flexibility: you can often find many different ways to to explain the same thing thanks to its wide range of vocabulary. It’s said to have well over 750,000 words (depending a bit on how you count – some generous estimates put that number at 1 million) and is adding new ones every year (see point 8 below).
7. It sounds different around the world
An even more recent development in the evolution of English is the appearance of distinct dialects among countries where English is the native language. The UK, Australia and America all have different ways of speaking and spelling, influenced by the cultural and historical events that have shaped their development.
8. It’s really flexible
Non-native English speakers who learn it as a second language often comment on how many ways there are to say things. That’s because English doesn’t discriminate – you can use it however you like. Countries like Singapore have taken this concept to heart, inventing an entirely new type of English called ‘Singlish’ that has absorbed facets of other languages like Chinese and Malay.
9. It continues to change
Selfie. Bae. Smasual. All these words are new to the English language but have already become valued members of the lexicon. More than any other language, English continues to evolve and absorb new words that branch out – often untranslated – into other languages. English is definitely a language that knows where the party’s at.
My connection to English might be inherited but there’s plenty in can offer to everyone, no matter where they are in the world. Plus, everyone should know what ‘selfie’ means, right?