How English Became the Universal Language
English has undergone many changes since its roots in early Europe. It started out as a Germanic language, and standard word order along with some vocabulary still show German roots in the modern English of today. It went on over the years to incorporate numerous words and suffixes from French during the time that England was invaded and occupied by the Normans in the 11th Century. Its most recent and well-known adoption was from Latin, whose language patterns and vocabulary dominate English. Even today, the language is constantly growing and adapting as it takes on new words from Spanish due to the large Latin American immigrant population in the United States and their great cultural influence over the last century.
This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Mariana G. Please note that this blog post might not necessarily represent the beliefs or opinions of ITTT.
The History of Becoming The Lingua Franca
In the world, as we know it today, however, English has become the lingua franca - the universal language for most of the world. That’s not to say that the whole world learns English, but rather than someone in any given country knows the language, usually someone from the elite and upper class. The English language first took on this status after World War II. Before that, French was the universal language that unified speakers from different parts of the world and enabled basic communication between cultures and countries. Nevertheless, French never rose to such a status as English has today - in part because globalization has put a lingua franca in higher demand than ever before.
In the last five decades, our world has changed more so than it had in the three centuries prior. The explosion of technology brought on a new phenomenon - globalization - one that engulfed the whole world and its citizens more quickly than the people could catch up with. It was simple - the world needed a universal language. What had once been a helpful communication tool amongst world leaders and the political elite was now becoming essential for people everywhere, regardless of class, race, country, or profession.
But how did English become this universal language? Why didn’t another language rise to the top instead? It might appear obvious as the United States was and still retains its status as a world power, but it certainly wasn’t the only country whose power could have given their language a shot at this status. The real impulse behind English’s rise to universality was the business world. As the sector with the most potential for growth during the oncoming of globalization, business people all over the world were interested in expanding their markets. And the number one market to enter at the time was that of the United States - a world power going through an economic and population boom postwar. To the businesses of the world, it was simple. They wanted to get their products into the hands of people in the English-speaking world because Americans were many and they were wealthy. So while there were other languages with more native speakers in other areas of the globe - Spanish, Arabic, Chinese - those markets did not hold as much promise.
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It didn’t stop in the business world, however. With this impulse of English into everyday life, other sectors followed suit. It dominates the world of technology and it’s the official language of the Olympics and the United Nations. A native Spanish speaker can travel to the other side of the globe and partake in tours with people from all over the world because they all speak English and the tours will be given in English. And it has, because of all this, naturally
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Entered the world of education, more so as a necessity. For English to truly serve as a universal language, people from all around the world needed to speak it, and not just the elite. TEFL classes grew in demand and there are more second-language speakers of English than there are native English speakers. So that begs a new question, what actually is standard English now? And what does that mean for the way we teach it?
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