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English Spreading Worldwide

Published: 07.09.2010, Updated: 03.03.2017
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English spreading worldwide

During the last 400 years, Britain has won and lost an Empire. At one time, the British Empire was so large that you could walk from Cape Town to Cairo and not leave British territory. Now only the language remains a superpower.

In the reign of Elizabeth I (1558-1603), the seas were dominated by British ships which were sent to trade with other parts of the world. By 1800, Britain had colonies from India to Canada and exported goods all over the world. Consumer goods like sugar, tea and coffee became common in Europe. Gold and ivory were shipped from Africa and traded for Indian cotton, tea, china, silk and spices in Asia. Native Africans were taken prisoner and traded for British goods on the African West Coast, and then sold as slaves on the other side of the Atlantic, in the West Indies and America. Throughout the 19th century, Britain dominated the world and spread the English language to all corners of the globe. Words from Asian and African languages were also adopted into English. Here is Bill Bryson on the spread of English.

17th Century American English

World Leadership

World leadership passed to the United States in the course of the two world wars. With the spread of films, radio, television and globalisation, English has attained an even more dominant position as a world language. Technical development and international communication has confirmed the position of English in the world.

Today, there are about 400 million people who have English as their first language or mother tongue. More than this have English as their second language. These are mainly people living in former British colonies, people who also often have a native tongue. Being so widespread, English picks up words from other languages. English has, as opposed to French, always been willing to adopt words. Listen to these examples from 'Journeys in English' by Bill Bryson.

English Adopting Words 

A Lingua Franca

English is used as a means of international communication, a lingua franca, by others who have learned English as a foreign language. The United Nations and the International Olympic Committee are two examples of organizations which use English as one of their official languages.

Perhaps in the future, the English language will change, as suggested by the linguist Sir David Crystal. The English-speaking countries will have their own national versions of English and there will be an international version for communication with the rest of the world.

Examples of foreign loan words which have become part of the English language:

  • German: kindergarten
  • African: apartheid, safari
  • Indian: verandah, pyjamas
  • Arabic languages: mattress, zero



  1. Match the loan word with its country of origin:  




The English Speaking World. Map.  

The English Speaking World: countries where English ia a majority language are
dark blue; countries where it is an official but not majority language are light blue.
English is also one of the official languages of the European Union.
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