IS English in danger of being too successful as a world language for its own good?
This prospect is at least hinted at in a new British Council report which shows that, after Mandarin Chinese, English is the most spoken language globally with more than 500 million people able to use it. Hindi follows close behind and then comes Spanish with about 420 million users.
French, once the language of choice for international understanding, now lags far behind with a mere 130 million adherents, about the same number as use German. Englishas-a-second-language has been big business for the British Council and for the many British academic institutions which have taught it in the UK and abroad. The universality of the use of English is such that in many foreign companies it is the corporate language used on an everyday basis.
When recruiting middle-rank and senior staff such companies now take for granted that candidates will have a command of English and require a third language as well.
The problem anticipated by the British Council is that in time the business of teaching of English will depend less on native English speakers and teachers and instead will be devolved to competent speakers of the language in many different countries. To some extent this is already happening with the result that various forms of a heavily-accented kind of English, rather than “standard” English, is already being heard quite widely. Still, it can only be good news from the point of view of international understanding that the British Council estimates that in a few years around two billion people will be learning English, nearly a third of the world's population.