What is a global language?

A language becomes global when it develops a special role that is recognised in every country where that language is spoken; but also, it should be accepted by other countries around the world willing to give that language a place in their communities. The two ways it can be achieved is by making that language an official one, in order to facilitate communication, or be made a priority in the foreign language teaching programmes. Does English fit the description?

English is spoken by 380 million as a first language, but more than one billion people use it either as a second or additional language mainly to communicate with other non-English speakers.

English has acquired the status of official language in over seventy countries, such as Ghana, Nigeria, India, Singapore and Vanuatu.

English is now the language most widely taught as a foreign language – in over 100 countries, such as China, Russia, Germany, Spain, Egypt and Brazil – and in most of these countries it is the main foreign language requested in schools, often displacing another language in the process. In 1996, for example, English replaced French as the chief foreign language in schools in Algeria (a former French colony).

What is the role of English in the 21st Century?


The globalisation of English started with British Imperialism

With the surge of globalisation, and the growth of exchanges in the international market a common way of communication was necessary to facilitate multiple connections between parties and English was chosen as “the” language to bridge the gap. But was this due to a coincidence? Certainly not, historical, political and economic factors played a massive role in it. Like during the Roman times where Latin was spoken everywhere under the Roman influence, the same happened with English. The globalisation of the language started with British imperialism and carried on with the emergence of the USA as the first world economy.

English as a global, or as stated by others, an international language, has different kind of users with diverse cultures, and under the influence of their own mother tongue. It is used for a wider communication within multilingual societies as well as a way of international communication between countries.It enables people to share with others their ideas and their culture.

English is used for a wider communication within multilingual societies.

Countries like the Netherlands, Sweden and Norway have chosen to teach English to a high standard in school education to give their country an economic advantage in international business, contrarily to France and Germany who opted to protect their national language.

English is without doubt the lingua franca. It is indispensable for international communication and individuals use it all over as their survival language for travelling. This reliance on English is mostly detrimental to English-speaking citizens who refuse to learn the language of the countries they are visiting. This can become a long-term disadvantage for them as they would be the sole monolingual people left.

It should be reminded that Spanish and Mandarin are challenging the English language not only because of the vast number of people speaking these languages but also because of their strong presence on the internet.

It appears the people using English as a second language ought to accept the norms produced by the English-speaking countries. Any variation in expressions and accent seems to be labelled as inferior or not acceptable.

There have been some thoughts of standardisation for making International English more accessible to people from different nationalities. And lately they have even proposed that non-native speakers should have a bigger role in the development of the language.

And if English is to serve as a truly international language, it should make room for all the norms and variations coming from different part of the world.

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