Welcome to EUROCENTRES blog

How Did English Become The “Global” Language?

Once upon a time, Latin was the most important language in the world, with people across Europe, Africa and Asia desperate to learn it to improve their situation in life.

Then, for nearly a thousand years, French was the international language of politics and trade. Even English kings and queens like Henry VIII spoke and wrote in French most of the time!

Later, depending on where in the world you lived, no matter what your native tongue, you would struggle to get ahead without speaking Russian, Spanish, German, Arabic or Mandarin.

In today’s world, that language is English. Nearly two billion people around the world speak some English. It’s the standard language of technology, aviation, academia and many other areas of life and work.

But how did this happen? Why did English become so important, all around the world?

The first reason is, of course, the British Empire. The people who lived places like India, South Africa, Jamaica, Australia, Ireland and across North America hundreds of years ago didn’t choose to speak English… they were colonised by Britain. All of a sudden, English became the language of government, education, business and the military in each of these countries. If you wanted to get a good job, you had to speak English.

At its most powerful, the British Empire included nearly a quarter of the entire world (in fact, there are only 22 countries that the English haven’t invaded at one time or another!). That’s a lot of countries where people didn’t have much choice about learning English!

That explains why the first 400 million or so English speakers came about, what what about the rest? Why do so many people still want to learn English?

Well, first of all, when each of the countries in the empire won back their independence, speaking English still turned out to be very useful. Not only was it easier to trade with, work in and study in England, but people from these countries could start doing business with each other, too, using English as common language.

Lots of people in these countries carried on learning English – in fact, it’s still an official language in 54 countries. What’s more, people in many other countries realised that learning English would give them a common language with all these nations, too.

The next big push was the rise of another powerful English-speaking country: the USA.

In the  twentieth century, all the big empires and powerful nations of the past went through huge changes, became weak, or fell apart completely. Two World Wars destroyed much of Europe, put many countries in huge amounts of debt, and helped bring the empires of Britain, France, Germany, Japan, Spain, Turkey, Portugal, Austria and Belgium to an end. Meanwhile, there revolutions in Russia and China, as well as bloody civil wars in many other countries.

While the rest of the world was in trouble, at this time, the USA was getting stronger and richer. After the First and Second World Wars, American Presidents took an important role in writing peace treaties. The USA also gave or lent money to countries to help them rebuild cities that had been destroyed by fighting and bombs.

At the same time, American music and film industries were doing really well, bringing English-language songs and movies to people all round the world. Once again, an English-speaking country was involved in lots of different countries and it was helpful for people to learn their language.

What’s more, the USA created a lot of new technology at this time and selling it all over the world. When companies like Microsoft, Apple and IBM made computers, for example, they wrote code and set up things like keyboards and other parts in English.  Then, an Englishman called Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web. Inventions like these meant that some of the most important technology used all over the world was created in English.

These are just some of the reasons why English has become “the world’s second language”. In 100 years’ time, there might be a new global language that everyone wants to learn! For now, though, there’s no doubt that learning English is extremely useful. It’s important for connecting with people around the world, for travelling to other countries, for studying, and for getting jobs that earn more money. No wonder it’s so popular.

Feeling inspired to improve your English? Check out our range of courses at www.Eurocentres.com