There are two competing drives to take into account: the pressure for international intelligibility, and the pressure to preserve national identity. It is possible that a natural balance may be achieved between the two, but it should also be recognized that the historical loyalties of British ex-colonies have been largely replaced by pragmatic utilitarian reasoning.
The very dominance of an outside language or culture can lead to a backlash or reaction against it. People do not take kindly to having a language imposed on them, whatever advantage and value that language may bring to them. As long ago as 1908, Mahatma Gandhi said, in the context of colonial India: �To give millions a knowledge of English is to enslave them�. Although most former British colonies retained English as an official language after independence, some (e.g. Tanzania, Kenya, Malaysia) later deliberately rejected the old colonial language as a legacy of oppression and subjugation, disestablishing English as even a joint official language. Even today, there is a certain amount of resentment in some countries towards the cultural dominance of English, and particularly of the USA.
As has been discussed, there is a close link between language and power. The USA, with its huge dominance in economic, technical and cultural terms, is the driving force behind English in the world today. However, if the USA were to lose its position of economic and technical dominance, then the �language loyalties� of other countries may well shift to the new dominant power. Currently, perhaps the only possible candidate for such a replacement would be China, but it is not that difficult to imagine circumstances in which it could happen.
A change in population (and population growth) trends may prove to be an influential factor. The increasing Hispanic population of the USA has, in the opinion of some commentators, already begun a dilution of the �Englishness� of the country, which may in turn have repercussions for the status of the English language abroad. Hispanic and Latino Americans have accounted for almost half of America�s population growth in recent years, and their share of the population is expected to increase from about 16% today to around 30% by 2050. Some even see the future possibility of a credible secessionist movement, similar to that for an independent Quebec in Canada, and there has been movements within the US Republican party (variously called "English First" or "Official English" or "US English") to make English the nation�s official language in an attempt to reduce the significance of Spanish. Official policies of bilingualism or multilingualism in countries with large minority language groups, such as are in place in countries like Canada, Belgium and Switzerland, are an expensive option and fraught with political difficulties, which the USA would prefer to avoid.
A 2006 report by the British Council suggests that the number of people learning English is likely to continue to increase over the next 10-15 years, peaking at around 2 billion, after which a decline is predicted. Various attempts have been made to develop a simpler "controlled" English language suitable for international usage (e.g. Basic English, Plain English, Globish, International English, Special English, Essential World English, etc). Increasingly, the long-term future of English as a global language probably lies in the hands of Asia, and especially the huge populations of India and China.
Having said that, though, there may now be a critical mass of English speakers throughout the world which may make its continued growth impossible to stop or even slow. There are no comparable historical precedents on which to base predictions, but it well may be that the emergence of English as a global language is a unique, even an irreversible, event.
People often talk about English as a global language or lingua franca. With more than 350 million people around the world speaking English as a first language and more than 430 million speaking it as a second language, there are English speakers in most countries around the world. Why is English so popular, though? And why has it become a global language?
People often call English the international language of business, and it’s increasingly true as international trade expands every year, bringing new countries into contact. Many of the best MBA programs are taught in English, so speaking it well can put you in a position to get the best training and credentials. Most multinational companies require a certain degree of English proficiency from potential employees so in order to get a position with a top company, more and people are learning English.
If your ambitions lie in science or medicine, you can’t neglect English either. Much of the technical terminology is based on English words, and if you want to learn about the latest developments and discoveries from around the world, you’ll read about them in journals and research reports published in English, no matter whether the scientists who wrote them are from China or Norway. And, of course, with good conversational English, you’ll be able to network and make important contacts at conferences and seminars.
English also opens doors in the academic world. Of course, if the best program in your field is in an English-speaking country, English will give you the opportunity to study with the top scholars. Western universities are attracting more and more visiting scholars, students and professors from all around the world, and their common working language is English. As well as studying and teaching, attending international conferences and publishing in foreign journals are some of the key steps to success in academia. In order to speak at these conferences or publish in these journals, excellent English is essential.
Journalists and writers around the world are finding a good command of English to be an increasingly useful skill. Even if you’re writing your articles and doing interviews in your own language, with good English you can get background material from international wire services and papers and magazines from around the world. You can interview foreign businessmen, diplomats and maybe even get sent to cover overseas stories. Good English skills mean that you are not reliant on translators and can work faster and more accurately with English information sources.
If you want a career in travel, English is absolutely essential. As the international language of aviation, pilots and cabin crew all need to speak English. Even if you’re not up in the air, speaking English accurately will ensure you are able to communicate with clients and suppliers all over the world.
So, what’s stopping you from learning this global language? With all the resources available on the internet and so many other English speakers around the world to practice with, there’s never been a better time to start learning English. Pick up a book, learn a few words, or even start a course today and take your first steps towards becoming one of nearly 800 million English speakers in the world.