English is the language of Shakespeare, the Beatles, of economics, politics, culture, science… in short, it maintains an undeniable hegemony around the world, 500 years after the British Empire began its journey.
Why does everyone want to learn English?
It is the official language of almost 400 million people and the second language and foreign language of many others. In total, there are 1.5 billion English-language learners worldwide, according to British Council member John Knagg and the concentric circle theory of Braj Kachru, professor emeritus at the University of Illinois.
It is also the so-called “business language“, which gives a more approximate idea of the global nature of its influence. However, it would be a mistake to think that this language is necessary only to communicate with native speakers.
Its root lies in an island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean; from Britain it has conquered the planet. English has become a universal language and an almost indispensable condition for professional success.
Today it is used for labour, economic, cultural, tourist and academic matters. It is required to travel and study, in congresses and in scientific publications.
Although Britain is the origin of the language, it does not have the largest number of speakers. There are countries with a greater number of English speakers such as the U.S., India, Pakistan and Nigeria.
In five centuries, English has managed to sneak into the mind of the entire world and be part of the lives of most citizens. From the 16th century, when Isabel I reigned and until the 20th century with the United States, there has been an English-speaking hegemony that has pushed to create an industry in the wake of the Industrial Revolution, and has produced wealth as well as investing in education and culture.
At no time have the English people stopped paying attention to business, the key to their livelihood. The so-called City of London gathers the money of all those who belonged to the Commonwealth and were British colonies, such as India, that have maintained their strong ties despite the passage of the centuries.
The English implemented improvements in science and technology in the countries they reached, and established relationships with powerful institutions. These processes guaranteed a presence of English culture in all the social branches of their colonies.
The fact that the United States as well as the United Kingdom have the largest amount of English speakers has helped English become a prominent language. From Britain and the USA, English takes its publications, studies, films and books to virtually anywhere in the world.
Since English is the language of the main world powers, it is not surprising that, in most countries, its learning is supported from school and in many others, it is directly a second language.
This teaching authority is joined by powerful platforms that have catapulted English beyond any border. William Shakespeare became the world theatre paradigm and his works are revered today (probably almost more than when they were published), the Beatles got music, in most of its versions, to only be understood in English and the influential film industry has monopolised it as its official language.
500 years later, English has become strong on all fronts and it seems that no language can overtake it; not even Spanish or Chinese. English is, therefore, the first language in the world.
For all these reasons, learning English has ceased to be a luxury and has become a necessity. According to Kenneth Beare, English-language learners worldwide are largely divided into two groups: The British Council says that there are 750 million ‘English as a foreign language’ (EFL) speakers and 375 million ‘English as a second language’ (ESL) learners.
The difference between the two groups is that EFL speakers generally are those using English occasionally for business or pleasure, while ESL students use it on a daily basis or they even speak English as their first language.
Also, the British Council stated in a report called “The English effect” that “English is spoken at a useful level by some 1.75 billion people worldwide – that’s one in every four. By 2020, we forecast that two billion people will be using it – or learning to use it.”
“It also states that “It is the economically active, the thought leaders, the business decision-makers, the young, the movers and shakers present and future who are learning and speaking English. They are talking to each other more and more and English is the ‘operating system’ of that global conversation.”
For all these reasons, people around the world are beginning to enrol themselves onto English courses, regardless of whether they plan to travel abroad, because they want to enhance their professional skills or simply because they are passionate about languages.
At present, it is the most demanded language in companies and businesses, which is why it became the main tool to expand professional and personal goals. As soon as you master the language you will have access to more and better job opportunities, in addition to obtaining a better access to education.
English provides a significant competitive advantage in everything from soft power to commerce, to the media, to universities and academia; and delivers a ready and growing global market.
There’s an enormous demand and need for English in the state and public education systems, especially in developing economies; therefore, the demand of language courses and teachers has increased as well.
Hence why the UK should respond to this global demand by attracting even more of our brightest and best young people into teaching English around the world. But we should not stop there. If we are to maintain our position at the heart of the global network and as a major cultural and economic presence, we must learn from, and share more and more with, other cultures and countries.”