Top Reasons That Made English a Dominant Language

If you can speak English, you will probably be able to communicate with someone in just about any major country you could visit. While not everyone speaks this language, English is truly a dominant language spoken by millions across the globe. Experts state that around a third of the world’s population speaks English as their native language, and many more study it as a second language. What caused English to spread beyond the bounds of the British Isles and become such an important player in global communication? The answer begins with a look at the language’s original speakers, the English.

English Dominance in the 19th Century

In the 19th century the British Empire was truly a global empire. As some said at the time, “the sun never sets on the British Empire.” Great Britain held colonies on every continent, and the trade language in those areas was English. By the end of the 19th century, the British Empire’s reach was global, and the language was also becoming global. This influence continued into the 1900s, and by 1922 the British Empire had an influence over around 458 million people, close to a quarter of the world population of the time, which meant that knowing English was important.

The Rise of America as a Global Power

Even though it is a relatively young country in light of world history, the United States has become a global superpower, specifically after World War II. America has a hand in politics, economics, and culture around the world. As such, English is becoming more and more important as a global language. When you add the influence of America in today’s global economy to the historic and current influence of Great Britain, understanding English becomes almost essential to carrying out business in the current economic market.

English Is the Language of Technology and Science

As you browse the World Wide Web, you will find that most websites are in English or have an English translation available. This shows how influential English is in the world of technology. Since many of the technological devices created across the globe are marketed heavily in America, they are designed with English-speaking users in mind. You can see this in the design of the computer keyboard. Most standard keyboards contain the standard letters of the English alphabet, which is further proof that English is the language of technology.

In addition, English is the language of science. The Science Citation Index reports that over 95 percent of all of its documents are English documents, even though a majority of them are writing by non-native English speakers. The medical community also uses English as a unifying language, making it essential for doctors to learn if they wish to be able to read reports and journals about the latest medical breakthroughs.

English is the Language of International Organizations

When multiple countries come together, they must choose a language to speak. Often the language chosen is English. The official language of the United Nations, for instance, is English. The same is true for the International Olympic Committee. At the Olympics, announcements are made in the language of the host country and in English. English is also one of the official languages of the European Union.

Other Uses of English Cause It to Have Global Impact

English is the international language of many industries, including banking, computing, business, diplomacy, and even entertainment. An international treaty aimed at making communication easier made English the official language of aviation and maritime activities.

The list of industries or functions where English is one of the main languages spoken is truly never ending. The simple fact is that since the late 1800s, English has been spoken in more locations across the globe than any other language, and that fact, coupled with the economic and political power of the United States and Great Britain, means that English will continue to have massive impact on the global economy in the future.

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The Importance of English in the "Age of Asia"

English language learning around the world is evolving in surprising and sometimes alarming ways. A few decades ago, the language learning process was either moderated by native speakers (NS) of English or proactively initiated by second language learners who travel to English-speaking countries to study and become proficient in the language. In many language encounters, English translators were also in high demand to facilitate a clearer communication between peoples of diverse linguistic traditions. This is not to say that formal English language teachers and translators have become relics belonging to a bygone era. On the contrary, their function is still very much relevant, but their roles are changing dramatically.

For one thing, the number of language students leaving their home nations to study English abroad is in a rather steep decline according to the most recent reports. That is because English language learning has already become a critical strategic policy among non-English speaking nations that have wisely institutionalized the learning of English in the home front. Given the undeniable role of English as the language of choice in global business, the Internet, and international relations, not doing so will prevent these nations from having any meaningful participation in global discourses.

In much of Asia, including China and India–two of its demographic and economic giants–the learning of English has become an integral component of early education. Meanwhile, given their heritage of British governance, Singapore and Malaysia have also consistently promoted the learning of English such that their English-speaking populations are perhaps the most proficient in the region, based on online tests conducted by some language-oriented organizations. Nearby, the Philippines still holds the title of having the 3rd largest English-speaking population in the world after the US and India.

Given these developments, how has the role of language teachers who are also native speakers of English changed as previously claimed? The simple and alarming fact is that neither they nor their linguistic compatriots in the US, UK, Australia, Canada and New Zealand own and control English anymore. If numbers were a determinant of language ownership, they are outnumbered by at least 3 to 1 by non-native English speakers. Native speakers number between 300 million to 400 million while speakers of English who also have a first language exceeds a billion.

Of course, language ownership is a tenuous issue and games of numbers are just that. By all indications, English has become a global language owned by all its users–regardless of whether they are native or non-native speakers of it–who will naturally use English within their respective cultural contexts. It is no accident that there is now the so-called Korean English, Indian English and other working variants of the English language. The evolutionary transformation of language by people who use it is in fact, a known and expected linguistic phenomenon. After all, any language that ceases to evolve, like Latin, is a dead language.

Speaking of imperial languages, English too has undeniably become the de facto lingua franca of global commerce, international relations, and the scientific and technological world, much like Latin was during the heydays of the Roman Empire up to the Industrial Revolution. Two very vivid examples of how English is transforming global businesses is the Toyota-Peugeot factory in the Czech Republic and the Nokia headquarters in Finland. While managed by a multinational team and staffed mostly by technically skilled Czechs and Finns, respectively, the enforced medium of communication within the business and manufacturing complexes of both companies is unabashedly English. Elsewhere in Western Europe, the modern Swedes appear to have the highest level of English proficiency among non-English speaking countries largely due to the fact that Swedes believe that Swedish has very little communicative value in a global setting or even anywhere in the world that is not part of Sweden. At the other end of the scale is Spain, which lags behind all other European countries in English proficiency, a fact that may be related to its population’s awareness that Spanish is also a formidable language in its own right and is still used as the language of business and diplomacy in Latin America.

However, in a much larger scale, it is English that has become the medium of choice when representatives of the G7, BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, China), and ASEAN communicate with each other. Without global English, the inter-relational proximity of different nations would have been very remote indeed, requiring translators that often feed a sense of “separateness” among diplomats. If anything, global English is helping diverse nations become closer together by eradicating previously problematic linguistic barriers to better trade, security and cultural relations.

In the realm of science and technology, English has also helped the global exchange of research data and innovative ideas. Scientific journals and research are now mostly articulated through English, with some estimates placing its use in modern science and technology to as much as 90 percent. Even the Internet, one of the top technological marvels of the previous century, is largely English-based, even when large pockets of localized online content is spreading. Notably, the programming codes that established the World Wide Web and all its amazing functionalities today are also loosely based on the English language. Software programmers from non-native English-speaking countries have very little choice but to get immersed in the rudiments of the English language as used in the syntax of their programming codes.

Given the established dominance of English in the global ecosystem, how will educators of English as a second language (ESL) redefine their roles in the new dynamic? The first is for educators to fully acknowledge that English as used in non-native English speaking countries is not the language of Shakespeare. It has been transformed into a far different variant called Global English, where the millions of linguistic stakeholders are active participants in its continuing evolution. As of this writing, the Asian trend indicates that more people are learning English, and starting learning it at a very early age. In many respects, the method of teaching English has also changed from being articulated as a foreign language to being shared as an acclimatized second language that functions as the local population’s link to the rest of the world. According to an article in the Economist, children with ages between 8 and 12 are better language learners than younger ones.

In the same article, Malaysia ranked as the most proficient English user in Southeast Asia based on a global sampling of 2 million non-native English speaking people conducted by the English teaching company, EF Education First. At the other end is Thailand that ranked among the worst five performers globally. The good performance of Malaysia may stem from its Anglicized history as well as its export-oriented economy that required intensive communication with a global market. As previously noted, the spectre of political colonialism–at least in the case of Malaysia–has all but been removed from the teaching of English, replaced by the practical need for Malaysians to learn English in order to maintain their global economic competitiveness.

As if to affirm the status of English as a lingua franca, China has been pushing for state-sanctioned English education years ago, in a similar effort to buoy their vibrant economy. Reportedly, such sustained efforts will eventually empower China to even outperform English-acclimatized India in the services sector that requires extensive use of English. To illustrate the far ranging implications of these developments, the number of Chinese children that are learning English–more than a hundred million–now exceed the entire population of the United Kingdom.

The mandate for English language educators is clear: Global English is a previously unheard of phenomenon but is a contemporary fact that educators, businesses, governments, technologists, learners, and other linguistic stakeholders will be confronted in the next several years. Realigning teaching methods to help steer its evolution into a robust mode of communication that is clearly understood by all parties in global language interactions is of critical importance.

Michael G. Hines is the Founder of Icon Group Thailand (IGT) – Educating the Future (IconGroupThailand):
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An English Speaking Environment Highly Improves English Skills

There are a variety of methods one can use to improve their English skills. Such methods can include learning from textbooks, reading newspapers and magazines, listening to English music, watching English speaking television, and attending English learning classes. These are all great ways to improve your English skills; however, one effective method of improving your English skills is immersing yourself in an English speaking environment.

Being in an English speaking environment will improving your English speaking skills by helping you communicate more easily and effectively. When you are constantly hearing and speaking English on a daily basis, you can dramatically improve how you speak and understand the language. You will learn English idioms and slang, pronunciation, and meanings of words and phrases. You will gain more confidence as you listen and learn. Interacting with others will also boost your confidence as you become more comfortable with speaking the language.

Places where learners can immerse themselves in an English speaking environment include:

Conversation Groups: There are many community sponsored groups that hold conversation groups where English learners can meet and interact with other English learners. These groups can meet at a church, school, community centre, government department, or at an immigrant service agency. There are also social engagements held by immigrant groups. Learners can spend time in a relaxed environment and converse with each other in English. You will learn to speak English while being part of a support group. You will also most likely make some good friends. Some of these groups may plan special social events like going to dinner, a movie, or spending time at a coffee shop. You will gain confidence speaking English in public.

Live in an English Speaking Environment: Living with native English speakers is a great way to learn English. You will have the benefit of being exposed to and engaging in English conversation a daily basis. You and your roommates with not only talk in English, but watch television together and read magazines, books, and newspapers. You will learn a lot and find your English improving every day.

Live in An English Speaking Country: There are many opportunities available for an English learner to live and work abroad in a country that speaks English. Traveling to an English speaking country may seem scary, but there are organizations that will help you adjust. Soon, you will find yourself absorbed in the culture where all aspects of your life will involve speaking English. You will not only learn the language, but you will have memorable experiences that will last a lifetime. If you are a student, contact the college or university to find out if they know of other students who want to practice conversing in English.

Learning English may seem like an overwhelming and difficult task. Fortunately, it does not have to be a tedious undertaking. Practicing speaking English is one of the best ways to learn English. When immersed in an English speaking environment, you will soon discover that you are not only learning English quickly and easily, but you are having fun at the same time. You will discover that each day your English skills will get better and your self-confidence will greatly improve.

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