Once there was a popular quote saying that “The sun never set on the British Empire”.
This statement is very close to the truth. Because of the geographic spread of the British colonies, some territory somewhere was always in daylight hours. Chief among many legacies left behind by this British colonization is none other than the English language.
It is difficult to estimate exactly how many English speakers there are, but according to one estimate there are more than 350 million native English speakers. But more of interest to us is the fact that there are more than 400 million speakers of English as a second language. However, even these numbers do not really indicate how important English is as a world language, because less than 15% of the population uses English. At the same time English is not the most widely spoken language in the world in terms of number of native speakers. For example there are many more Chinese speakers than English speakers, but Chinese is used very little outside of Chinese communities making English the most widespread language in the world.
The importance of English is not just in how many people speak it but what it is used for. English is the major language for news and information in the world. It is the language of business and government even in some countries where it is the minority language. It is the language of international air traffic control and maritime communication. American popular culture, primarily movies and music carries this language throughout the world. In some countries other than the United Kingdom English is the sole or dominant native language. It has that role in the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Ireland. This is no surprise as all these countries are former British colonies. In other countries English is also the widely used, particularly among people who have no other language in common, even though it is not the dominant...