The Future of English Language: Will English Retain Its Current Global Position in the Next 50 Years?

English has been the dominant global language in the present world. But what is the future of English? Before giving this answer, it is essential to see the current situation of the English language, which will help to provide the exact answer. Today English plays the global role as a lingua franca  used as a means of communication among speakers of other languages. It is spoken in many countries around the world. After Mandarin and Spanish, there are about 375 million native speakers of English. About 400 million speak it as a second language and 600–700 million speak it as a foreign language, and there are many people who are learning it, making English the second most spoken language and the most international one in the world. According to this estimate, almost 80 per cent of English speakers worldwide are non-native speakers.


Future of English: Global Position in the Next 50 Years
Future of English: Global Position in the Next 50 Years

Though English is not spoken by people everywhere in the world, it has acquired global status because “it has repeatedly found itself in the right place at the right time”. At the same time, people of any country can change it without consulting its “authority” because English has become a global language, meaning anyone no longer owns it. According to David Crystal, a British linguist, academic and author, “Language is an immensely democratising institution. To have learned a language is immediately to have rights in it. You may add to it, modify it, play with it, create in it, ignore bits of it, as you will.” So, the English language will be influenced by second or foreign language learners as those who speak it as a mother tongue. Indeed, the total number of mother tongue speakers worldwide is steadily falling as a proportion of world English users. Joseph Osoba, English Linguistics professor at the University of Lagos, says, “In Nigeria or elsewhere, I think, as far as America remains the world’s number one superpower, the English language will attain the status of a true and sole international or global language. It will still be the language of science and technology, international educational research, space research, and international diplomacy. It will remain the most dominant and enduring international language, though with more local varieties.”


In the book English as a Global Language, David Crystal says, “Linguistic history has shown us repeatedly that it is wise to be cautious when making predictions of a language. If in the Middle Ages someone had dared to predict the death of Latin as the language of education, scholars would have laughed in his face – as they would, in the 18th century, if one had suggested that any language, other than French, could be a future norm of polite society. A week may be a long time in politics, but a century is definitely a short time in linguistics.” It doesn’t necessarily mean English will follow the same path as Latin, though, where the language dies, but some descendants live on. Regarding the future of English, David Crystal also points out some aspects. A first aspect regards the rejection of English in the case of the people from a country who feel antagonistic or ambivalent about English so that they are likely to reject the option of giving English a privileged status, either as an official language or as a foreign language. It is the case of Kenya, Malaysia and Tanzania where the people expressed a strong reaction against using the language of Britain as the former colonial power and were in favour of maintaining and promoting the indigenous languages. This argument has to do with identity and with language as the most immediate and universal symbol of this identity. People prove a natural wish to use their mother tongue, to see it survive and grow, and they do not kindly accept it when the language of another country is imposed on them.


Malaysia has phased out schools that teach in English since independence from the British in 1957. By the early 1980s, most students were learning Malay's national language. “We’ve seen a drastic reduction in the standard of English in our country, not just among the students but I think among the teachers as well,” says political commentator Ong Kian Ming. In Singapore, nearly three-quarters of the population are ethnic Chinese but English is one of the national languages and is very widely spoken. Nowadays, the dominance of English is now being challenged by the rise of China in Singapore. English is becoming less important financially because people in business are taking to western clients to do business in China. So, they need to learn English but also need to know Chinese. However, there is also a dilemma that many writers face. If they write in English, their work will have the chance of reaching a worldwide audience, but to write in English also means sacrificing their national and cultural identity.


The emergence of the new Englishes that leads to the eventual fragmentation of English into a range of mutually unintelligible languages is the second aspect regards the rejection of English. This pattern of Latin gave rise to various languages over 1000 years ago, namely French, Italian and Spanish. In Dissertations on the English language, Noah Webster points out that ‘such a development would be necessary and unavoidable, because a language in North America must be as different from the future language of England, as the modern Dutch, Danish and Sweden are from German or from one another’. At the same time, Nicholas Ostler, a linguist whose insights are often brilliantly surprising, observes, “If we compare English to the other languages that have achieved world status, the most similar – as languages – are Chinese and Malay.” However, this assertion is not an accurate prophecy. English has indeed developed new varieties: American English, Australian English, New Zealand English, Canadian English, Indian English, South African English, Caribbean English and within Britain, Irish, Scottish and Welsh English. New “inter-languages” are emerging, in which features of English are mingled with those of other native tongues and their pronunciations.

In Singapore, the government attempts to promote the use of Standard British English through the “Speak Good English Movement”, the mixed language known as “Singlish” remains the variety spoken on the street and in the home. “Spanglish”, a mixture of English and Spanish, is the native tongue of millions of speakers in the United States, suggesting that this variety is emerging as a language in its own right. The effects are complex. It would seem that some are not as intended. Even as vast amounts are spent on spreading British English, the reality is that English is taking on more and more local colour in the different places where it is used. Accordingly, while the number of languages in the world is diminishing, the number of Englishes is increasing. But the varieties are by no means mutually unintelligible, and these examples are meant to illustrate the fact that these varieties are so individual that speakers of Standard English would be at a loss to understand them. This is due to the presence of the speaking norms and the standard written English that contribute to familiarising people with English, even if there remains little variation in the different English-speaking countries.
However, from the above discussion, it is very difficult to predict that English will retain its current global position in the next 50 years. But, we can at least speculate that the development of automatic translation software (e.g. Google Translate) may replace English as the preferred means of communication employed in the boardrooms of international corporations and government agencies. Moreover, it would be better to say with David Crystal, “Predicting the linguistic future is always a dangerous activity.”
Crystal, D. (2003). English as a Global Language. (2nd ed.). New York: Cambridge University Press.
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(The writer is a postgraduate student of the Institution of Education and Research, University of Dhaka. He can be reached at

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