Why Is English Used as the Global Language? | The Spread of English

English has acquired the status of ‘global language’ because of its role, scope, and popularity in education, computer, science and technology, aviation, tourism, diplomacy, and so on. People of different languages use it when they need to communicate with speakers of other languages. Nowadays, it plays a global role as a lingua franca – a common language used to communicate. It is stated by British linguist David Crystal that there are over 1.5 billion people who speak English around the world. About 400 million more people speak it as a second language, and an additional 600-700 million speak it as a foreign language. But the number is increasing day by day as the language is used as the official language in 67 countries and taught in about 118 countries. As reported by the British Council, by 2020, there will be 2 billion English studying people in the world. So, it can be probable that if a person meets someone from another country, they both will have to be able to speak English.

The Spread of English: English as a Global Language
The Spread of English: English as a Global Language

Though English is now a world lingua franca, it 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’. So, the question is – how has this language acquired global status? The answer is easy – the language emerged globally because it was ‘in the right place at the right time’. The rest of the part of this paper will show how this thing has happened to spread the English language globally.

In the earlier era, the spread of English occurred from Britain to other parts of the world through colonization. English was the leading colonial language in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries because of the growth of the British Empire. The British Empire covered almost a third of the earth’s surface, where nearly a fourth of the world’s population lived in that area. It was said that the desirable goal of the British Empire was the civilization mission anywhere in the world, and the English language was an essential tool for achieving that goal. A group of British settlers came to the American continent searching for new land in 1607. After the spread of English on the American continent, it also spread to the south, to the West Indies, and the southern part of the mainland. On the other hand, English was spread among the black population in these territories after shipping the first twenty African slaves to the Caribbean Islands in 1619.

In Australia and New Zealand, the presence of the English language started when prisons in England were overcrowded with convicts, and they were transported gradually to these lands in 1788. In South Africa, British control was established in 1820, and English was made the official language in 1822. In South Asia, the English language started to spread after establishing the first trading station of the British East Indian Company at Surat in 1612. At the time of British sovereignty, English became the language of administration and education throughout the region. Later most of the countries of the Indian subcontinent made English as their official language or associate official language.

English first became familiar with the people of this Indian subcontinent including Bangladesh through the British Colony like the many other British colonial countries. Although the British had left the Indian subcontinent in 1947, this region's people still bear the legacy of British colonial norms and values, including the language of English. Moreover, English continued to be widely used as a recognized state language with the second language status during the Pakistani regime. Therefore, the British Empire played a significant role in spreading the English language worldwide. After the independence of Bangladesh in 1971, the father of the nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman adopted the ‘one state one language’ policy. Bangla is widely used officially accepted language as the medium of instruction in Bangladesh’s core education sector. Besides, English has been allowed to be the medium of instruction in the certain education sector. Maintaining this issue, a bilingual approach could be adopted, which should be developed under an appropriate language plan and policy.

Besides the colonial empowerment, Britain had become the world’s leading industrial and trading country at the beginning of the nineteenth century. Most of the inventions of the Industrial Revolution were from Britain such as James Watt’s “steam engine”, George Stephenson’s “steam-powered train”, Richard Arkwright’s “water frame” etc. The world-famous inventor like James Watt, Thomas Newcomen, Richard Trevithick, Matthew Boulton, George Stephenson, Michael Faraday, Charles Wheatstone, Thomas Telford and others lived in Britain. So, Britain was called ‘the workshop of the world’. The new inventions had an impact on the language by adding lots of new words to the English lexicon. At the same time, most of the world’s famous inventions were pouring out of an English-speaking country where people from other countries needed to learn English to learn about the innovations. So, the spread of English also happened due to the Industrial Revolution.

After the First World War, the League of Nations was created as part of the Treaty of Versailles in 1920 where English and French were the official languages. Later, the League of Nations was replaced by the United Nations in 1945 where English was selected as one of the official languages. The selection of English as the official language of the United Nations helped the language spread worldwide. The spread of English increased through the medium of entertainment such as cinema, advertising, music etc. During the 1960 and 1970, the lyrics of Bob Dylan, Bob Marley, John Lennon, and others spread around the world because of the popularity, and the language of those lyrics were obviously English. After that, the computer started where the programming language was English and the output of different programs was also in English. English vocabulary and syntax were automatically used in the first computer operating systems where it was seen that the instructions were like ‘Press any key when ready’ and ‘Volume in Drive B has no label’. When the computer was gaining popularity, the emergence of the Internet made the popularity permanent where the first language was English. In 1996, Michael Specter wrote an article on “World, Wide, Web: 3 English Words” in The New York Times where he said, “If you want to take full advantage of the Internet there is only one way to do it: learn English.” So, the spread of English also occurred by the computer technology.

At last, it can be said that English has gained its highest status and got the opportunities to spread it all over the world because of the political and military power of Britain as well as the economic supremacy of the USA. Moreover, the spread of English has happened because of the British colonization, the Industrial Revolution, the emergence of new technologies, the spread of cinema and popular music etc. All these aspects help the English language to spread all over the world and give the language as a global language status because the language was ‘in the right place at the right time’.

Ciprianová, E., and Vanco, M. (2010). English in the age of globalization: Changing ELT
models, restructuring relationships. The Journal of Linguistic and Intercultural
Education, 3, 123.
Crystal, D. (2003). English as a Global Language. (2nd ed.). New York: Cambridge University
Rohmah, Z. (2005). English as a global language: Its historical past and its future. Indonesian
Scientific Journal Database, 1.
Online information:
English language. Retrieved August 14, 2017, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/English_
Innovations of the Industrial Revolution. Retrieved August 14, 2017 from https://


(The writer is a postgraduate student of the Institution of Education and Research, University of Dhaka. He can be reached at asm@mustafizur.net)

Post a Comment

Previous Post Next Post