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Barbara Dieu

EFL teacher
and coordinator of the
Foreign Language Department
Lycée Pasteur,
Curso Experimental Bilingue
São Paulo, Brazil

homebase for
This is Our Time Project
(French and Portuguese
Speaking Countries)

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Click on the names of the different continents
and discover where English is spoken

Some facts and figures about the English Language

[What for] [What our students say] [ Growth and Expansion] [ Influences] [Sources]

           According to research by the British Council, "English has official* or special status in at least seventy-five countries with a total population of over two billion. English is spoken as a native* language by around 375 million and as a second language* by around 375 million speakers in the world. Speakers of English as a second language will soon outnumber those who speak it as a first language. Around 750 million people are believed to speak English as a foreign language*. One out of four of the world's population speak English to some level of competence. Demand from the other three-quarters is increasing."

download here for free The Future of English (pdf file)
David Gradol's guide to forecasting the popularity of the English language in the 21st century

Click here to view the top 10 languages spoken in the world.

* Native-  the language you learned at home with your family when you were small.
* Official
- the language that is used in official documents, spoken on the radio and on television
*Second language - language you learn because you have to live in the country where the language is spoken.
*Foreign language - languages spoken abroad, a language you can choose to study at school.

 What people use English for

     The British Council says "English is the main language of books, newspapers, airports and air-traffic control, international business and academic conferences, science, technology, diplomacy, sport, international competitions, pop music and advertising.

     Over two-thirds of the world's scientists read in English. Three quarters of the world's mail is written in English. Eighty per cent of the world's electronically stored information is in English. Of the estimated forty million users of the Internet, some eighty per cent communicate in English, but this is expected to decrease to forty per cent as speakers of other languages get online."

What our students say about English

     "English is an easy language. There are no accents, the tenses of verbs are simplified and the adjectives are invariable", says Gustavo O. after three years studying it at school. Anaelle S. agrees with him but she finds the many different ways words are pronounced and the spelling difficult to cope with. Nicolas de F. finds it interesting and cool because through it he can understand many films and songs. "You need English to travel around the world - it's a language almost everybody understands - so it's easier to communicate with people from different cultures", says Daniela K. . According to Aldebaran D., "you must speak English if you want a good job especially if you want to work with computers".

Click here to read and listen why English can be hard to learn.

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The Growth and Expansion of English

     English is part of the Germanic branch of the Indo-European family of languages. By year 1000, the English language consisted of approximately 40 000 words. Nowadays, the number has grown to more than 500 000. If we calculate the average of words created per century, this comes to 46 000. A great number of words found in the English vocabulary was borrowed from Latin, French, Low German, and the Scandinavian languages. We also know that some periods were more fertile than others: invasions, contact with other cultures, inventions, technological progress, music, fashion are some of the factors which have helped to enrich the language.

     British colonialism in the 19th century and American capitalism and technological progress in the 20th century were undoubtely the main causes for the spread of English throughout the world.

     From around 1750 to 1950 the British Empire covered about a quarter of the globe. It was one of the most powerful empires the world has ever known. The colonies gradually freed themselves but about fifty countries chose to keep a connection with Britain by belonging to the The British Commonwealth. English is spoken all over the Commonwealth either as a native or an official language, and the British monarch is the symbolic head of the association.

     The USA has played a leading role in most domains for the last hundred years. At the end of the 19th century and first quarter of the 20th, it welcomed millions of European immigrants who had fled their countries ravaged by war, poverty or famine. This labour force strenghtened American industries and development. The Hollywood film industry also attracted many foreign artists in quest of fame and fortune and the number of American films produced every year soon flooded the market. Before the Treaty of Versailles(1919), which ended the First World War between Germany and the Allies, diplomacy was conducted in French. However, President Wilson succeeded in having the treaty in English as well. Since then, English started being used in diplomacy and gradually in economic relations and the media. During the II World War, America intervened both militarily and economically to save Europe from chaos. From then onwards, the United States have consolidated their cultural, economical and technological power: inventions, rock and roll, the first man on the moon, the revolution of the Internet, the country's growing prosperity and commercial aggressiveness have contributed to the further expansion and importance of English in the world today.

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     The Oxford English Dictionary's new edition will come out in 2010.The Chief Editor of OED , John Simpson, has issued an appeal for new words: 'There is no longer one English - there are many Englishes. Words are flooding into the language from all corners of the world'.

     The "internationalisation" of English may bring new possibilities for native speakers of the language :
In his MA thesis,"The Spread of English and Its Appropriation", Daniel Spichtinger quotes MCabe "...whereas for two centuries we exported our language and our customs in hot pursuit of...fresh markets, we now find that our language and our customs are returned to us but altered so that they can be used by that our own language and culture discover new possibilities, fresh contradictions." This may refer to writers from Africa, Asia and former colonies who have used and appropriated the English language for their own purposes but whose usage of English has also made their works accessible to a wider audience. For Kachru, "once English aquires a new identity through creative writing, the language is liberated from its colonial past."

     Rita Raley from the Department of English of the University of California gives us a list of terms coined to describe international dialects with ties to English... (What Is Global English?)
Anglikaans/Anglicaans, Anglonorsk, Arablish, Benglish, Chinglish, Deutschlish/Gerlish, Dutchlish, Eurolish, Franglais/Frenglish, Hindlish/Hinglish, Indonglish, Inglish, Italglish, Japlish/Janglish, Manglish, Minglish, Punglish, Russlish, Singlish, Spanglish, Swedlish, Taglish, Tamlish, Tinglish, Wenglish, Yinglish

Other Sources and Links

English Language - History/ Classification and related languages/Geographic distribution/Dialects and regional variants/ Major regional variations and much more in Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

What's Happening to Our Languages? - several articles by people worlwide published in Topics magazine

The future of ELT -International House has marked its 50th anniversary with a conference on the future of ELT. Here two of the presenters argue for greater commitment to multilingualism and for training that prepares for diverse needs. Article from the Guardian.

Not the Queen's English - Non-native English-speakers now outnumber native ones 3 to 1. And it's changing the way we communicate.

No time to fall behind in class - The global linguistic environment is changing rapidly, so ELT must update itself, argues Christopher Brumfit

Debate: The European Lesson - Macmillan/Guardian Weekly Global English Debate

Language, identity, and the Internet - Mark Warschauer

The Great English Divide - Businessweek magazine , August 2001 

Can English be dethroned? - the Unesco Courier, April 2000

Transparent Language


The Changing Global Economy and the Future of English Teaching - Warschauer, M. (2000). TESOL Quarterly, v. 34, p. 511-535

Global Internet Statistics - latest estimated figures of the number of people online in each language zone (native peakers)

The Origin and History of the English Language English Around the World - links

How French has influenced English

Folk Songs from English Speaking Countries

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