English as a Global Language When I visited the European Union (EU)


When I visited the European Union (EU) headquarters in Brussels, Belgium in 2005 with a group of journalism students, I was taken aback when the man speaking to our group explained that English is the language spoken in meetings with EU member-states and is the language in which most official EU documents are written. This statement in and of itself wasn't surprising, but rather, I was surprised to learn that the majority of EU member-states do not use English as their primary language. When one of my colleagues brought up his surprise to the man speaking, our speaker explained that English is the one language that every single representative in the EU knows well and is able to use. This was the first time I had ever really realized the impact that the English language has throughout the world, and it brought up a lot of questions in my mind about when this started, why English was chosen, how it has been used over time, and its future as a global language.

English as a global language can be attributed to the expansion of British power, which occurred mainly during the nineteenth century, and the United States' emergence as a leading country in the twentieth century (Crystal 53). Although there is no doubt that the British expansion contributed to the rise of English as the global language, it has remained that way due to its profound dominance in the United States (53). In fact, 'the USA has nearly 70 percent of all English mother-tongue speakers in the world (excluding Creole varieties)' (53). And, since the United States is a major leading economic, social and political player in the world today, many people need to use English for their jobs and livelihoods. Today, English is spoken on every continent and on some islands in the Atlantic, Indian and Pacific Oceans (24).

Although the trend of English as a global language has gone on for centuries and doesn't show many signs of changing, some people are not happy with this fact and would like to end its continuance. In fact, the same man who spoke to us at the EU headquarters said: 'Everybody in the EU speaks English ' even the French, though they try to resist it.' Although we all kind of laughed a bit and nodded our heads, this sentiment by the French representatives in the EU is more common than one might think. For example, some believe that if there are enough people (like the French) who feel so strongly against English being a global language that they do their best not to give English a 'privileged status,' its use as a global language could diminish altogether (Crystal 114). Furthermore, as countries gain more and more independence, they might not want to use English as a global language, and could instead fight for the use of their indigenous language(s) as the dominant tongue of their country (114).

There are, of course, many other contributing elements and factors in the rise of English as a global language, its continued use throughout the world, and its future as a global language, but one thing is consistent today: At the present time, English is the global language and it must be taught in a dedicated and correct way to those who want (and possibly need) to learn it.