There is no doubt that the desire to learn English has increased in the past few years amongst non-speakers. One of the reasons for this is that English has become the lingua franca of business. However, businessmen and aspiring entrepreneurs are not the only ones enrolling in English classes and online courses. The language has also become prominent in education in countries that do not speak it as a first language.
As a matter of fact, a study revealed that in the United Arab Emirates students perceive that their mother tongue (Arabic) is relevant to culture, home, religion, tradition, schools, social sciences and art. In the meantime, the same group considers English as the symbol of work, higher education, economics, commerce, science, technology, and modernity.
The increasing global presence of English is due in part to advancements in technology and telecommunications. In the advent of the 21st century it spread like wildfire throughout the world through popular culture, mass media, and more recently social media.
Let history answer the question: “Why English?”
The worldwide propagation of the English language can be traced back to colonialism. At first it was the British Empire. Fueled by the technological wonders of the Industrial Revolution, there was no stopping them to explore the world and claim dominion over newly discovered territories. The British Empire has diminished since, but the English language has found a foothold in every single territory they once claimed.
The “auxiliary tongue” of the world
The global diffusion of English did not stop there. One of those former colonies eventually became the most powerful country in the world. The economic and political influence of the United States coupled with the advancements in science and technology that Americans were able to achieve in the latter part of the 20th century made English the second language of the rest of the world.
English managed to persist because wherever in the world it was introduced and used, it persisted. Despite the negative aspects of colonial rule which former colonies all fought to erase, the language managed to get a foothold and in the end the choice to keep using it was made.
Citizens of the world
Now in the 21st century there are an estimated 500 million people who speak English as their second language. That’s a conservative estimate and yet it is still a much bigger than the number of people who are native English speakers. People are willing to go through such lengths in order to learn just in the belief that at the end of the tunnel, better career and life opportunities await. In many parts of the world, the ability to communicate in English is perceived to be equivalent to a higher social status. English is globally considered a language of power.
Mandarin Chinese and Spanish are the main contenders to the position of dominance that English now holds. Those who stand by these two argue that there are more native speakers of Mandarin and Spanish than English. Nevertheless, this strong argument does not change the fact that English is still the lingua franca of business, commerce, and the media, and there are no indications this will change in the next few decades.
There is one more characteristic of English that Mandarin and Spanish do not have. Local “versions” of English are increasing in number. More cultures are imbibing English, giving it local flavor, and using it in their daily lives as they move forward into the future.