Why is English the International Language?

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English, the ‘leftover’ language

English. It’s a love-hate relationship for most learners. It is the only language that absolutely everyone feels the need to study. Why? This answer is simple, of course. It is the lingua franca, international language of the world, the language almost everyone uses cross-culturally to communicate with each other. English will open so many doors for the average person, allowing them access to better jobs, more people, and possibly migration. This is obvious. But that is not what this article is about. This article’s question is: why English?

Why English?

People say that English is a relatively easy language to learn. with its basic grammatical structures and simple pronunciation, it’s an obvious choice for the international language. But really, I know lots of people who struggle so much with English. And you could argue that almost any language is easy to learn if you put your mind to it.

Despite what you may think, English is not the most spoken language in the world – natively. It’s actually number 3 after Chinese Mandarin and Spanish. So in terms of practicality, it would make more sense if everyone else learned Chinese because then there would be less total people in the world who would have to learn a language. Or Spanish, or French, because then there would be less total nations that would have to encourage bilingualism.

How did it come about? Why was it decided that English would be the international language, compulsory for worldwide aviation, business, travel and pretty much everything else? When did everyone just decide that they needed to learn English? It could have been any language – why was English chosen?

I get that there is a need for an international language in today’s world. After all, we can’t expect everyone to learn every language to be able to communicate with each other. But I suppose I just wish that there was a way to make it more fair and beneficial for everyone in the world.

It’s Not Fair

Not Fair for Native English Speakers

Native English speakers are endlessly advantaged just because we were born into societies where the international language is just our language. We can easily get positions teaching abroad. It’s much easier to get into prestigious schools and universities. We can travel almost anywhere just speaking our native tongue to get by. It’s almost unnecessary for us to learn another language. I could go on, but I think you get the point. Many, many things make life so much easier for the average native English speaker.

But I would also argue that there are so many issues with this. For one, we don’t have the necessity to learn a second language, which means that we don’t have the same brain development as people who are brought up multilingual. Secondly, we don’t have our own private language, which is actually the thing that bothers me the most. What I mean by that is that we don’t have a language that is ‘our own’ – English has been claimed by almost everyone. When we’re travelling we don’t get to have a language that we can speak and know nobody else will understand – we just have to accept that whatever we say is probably being overheard. Other people get to speak in their native language when in foreign places, usually with a reasonable reassurance that no-one can understand what they are saying.

 Not fair for everyone else

I don’t really like that it is just accepted that everyone should learn English, and the stigma that there is something wrong with you or you must be uneducated (or old) if you can’t speak English well. It just doesn’t sit right with me. Why should the majority of the world have to work so hard their whole lives just to attempt to master English, while we English speakers get a free ride in life and get to just put our feet up and relax?

I do believe that a lot of the inequalities and imbalances in the world could also be caused by this. Poorer people are less likely to succeed because they haven’t been given the chance to learn English well. If you think about it, the countries with the best quality of life are all either English-speaking, or countries where everyone speaks English as a second language fluently, like Nordic countries. Is this a coincidence?

Solution

Monollingual World?

You could argue that if everyone learns English to the point that everyone in the world speaks English, it would become completely pointless to learn any other language (other than for fun). If every person in Germany speaks English, for example, why learn German before you go to Germany? And on that note, why would Germans even learn German if they all speak English? Is this where we are headed – a totally monolingual world?

Of course this is not the case. Each person will learn their respective language which goes hand in hand with their country’s culture and history. So why should we (native English speakers) be left with the language that is not attached to any particular culture or place, the language that is spoken in a thousand different ways, the ‘leftover’ language?

Constructed Language?

Personally, I like the idea of a constructed international language that is relatively easy for anyone to learn – like Esperanto. I believe that this makes it fairer for everyone to have an equal chance in life.

As a native speaker of English, I don’t like the fact that English is a worldwide, international language. I learn other languages to combat some of what I’ve said above (read my blog about why you should learn the language of the countries you visit), but it is not the same as having your own native language that is tied to your family, traditions and culture.

So my solution is this:

Everybody should have to learn a language that is not native to them, and this should be the language everyone uses to communicate (like Esperanto). That way there would be no inequality, a level playing field for everybody, and nobody could get salty at anyone for ‘butchering’ their language. This is the way to go!

Are you a native speaker or have you learned English? Do you agree with this or do you like things the way they are? Let me know in the comments below!~

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6 Comments

  1. I absolutely loved your post! I have never considered that perspective about the lingua franca of the moment (English). Something that I find totally interesting is the fact you propose learning Esperanto as a solution, which I also found to be the solution a while ago when I decided to lean it.

    Personally, being a native Spanish speaker, I love my language, but I like a lot many other languages and I share the same idea as you!

    Thank you for such a nice article!

  2. Intresting question, especially for a polyglot like me. I speak five languages with English being my fourth. I think that there should definitely be a unifying language which should be neutral and not connected to any country, nation or ethnic group.

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