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History of the English Language

Originiating in England, the English language is used worldwide with over a billion people able to speak at least a basic level of English and over 380 million using it as their first language. Many people agree it is probably the most commonly used language in the world, and is used extensively as a second language for many countries.

First language

English is the first language of countries in the Anglosphere - namely Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Ireland, the commonwealth Caribbean, the United States of America and the UK. English is also one of six official languages of the United Nations.

So how did English become so widely used?

History tells us that around the fifth century AD, Eastern England was invaded by Germanic speaking people which resulted in the English language being spread either by by displacement of the original population, or the native inhabitants gradually adopting the language, or maybe a combination of both. The language evolved over many years from what we now call Old English, Middle English, early Modern English through to Modern English which is used today.

The Global Language

English is often referred to as a 'global' language, due to the fact it is so widely spoken throughout the world. If English is not the first language of a country it is more often than not taught as a second language in schools and colleges. Some might say this is a must, as a working knowledge of English is required in certain many professional fields and occupations. So much so that if you have 'poor' English skills you may not be able to get certain jobs as a result of that.

In recognition of the need to speak at least a basic level of English worldwide, it is often compulsory in schools to learn the language. For example, 89% of school children in the European Union (EU) study English as a foreign / second language. Even if only studying English at a basic level, a large fraction of the EU are able to converse at least basic English, and an even bigger fraction are competent English speakers. This is also the case for other countries around the world, which is handy if you go travelling as even if you don't speak the native language you can at least communicate using English.

To understand just how widely the English language is used, consider that there are 6.6 billion living in the world and over 1.8 billion of those people speak English as either their primary or secondary language. That's nearly a third of the world's population! English today is probably the third largest language by number of native speakers, with Mandarin Chinese and Spanish being the first and second largest language.

As the language is so widely used, you can usually buy English written books, magazines and newspapers in many countries around the world. In fact, the Science Citation Index reported that 95% of its articles were written in English, despite the fact that only half of them came from authors of English-speaking countries.

In addition to how widely the English language is used, one should also take into account its extraordinarily rich vocabulary and its sheer vastness. It is difficult to quantify just how big the language is as amazingly, there is no academy to define officially accepted words. Neologisms (a word, term of phrase which has recently been created) are coined regularly in science, medicine and technology, thus creating more words every day. In addition to the creation of these words, slang words are also created every day. Some of these words may only be used in small circles for example, within regions, whereas many words make their way into wider English usage. The editors of Webster's Third New International Dictionary estimate that about 25,000 words are added to the language each year.