How English Became a Global Language

All countries and territories marked in blue have English as an official language. Countries and territories in dark blue also have a majority of the population speaking English as their native language.

Originally, English was only spoken on the island of Great Britain and, to some extent, in neighboring Ireland. From the 17th century onward, though, this changed. Now, Britain began to explore the world and establish colonies overseas, causing English to be spoken in these colonies on all of the world’s inhabited continents.

In some British colonies, such as Canada and Australia, English became the dominant language. In other colonies, including India and Nigeria, English became a language used in government, in higher education and as a nationwide lingua franca, even though local populations continued to speak other languages at home. With few exceptions, these language patterns remain to this day, although most former British colonies have been independent since the mid-1900s.

Cultural influence

With Britain’s power declining as its empire disintegrated in the mid-20th century, the United States took over as the foremost disseminator of the English language. This American language influence on the world, which continues to this day, is very much based on cultural influence, stemming from music, film, clothing and globally-expanding American companies. Simply put, people around the world who listen to American pop music, watch Hollywood movies, wear Nike clothing and eat at McDonald’s are going to be inundated with English whether they like it or not.

Business and politics

Complementing the United States’ cultural might of the last seventy-odd years is an equally dominant American military and economic might. Therefore, knowledge of English is crucial in the international arena in both business and politics, adding another layer of exposure to English for people from non-English-speaking countries who operate internationally. This need to use English in corporate and governmental environments, combined with the aforementioned cultural input and global spread, has led to English occupying a dominant position in overall cross-border communication around the world.