I can’t tell you how many times I heard the song “Blinding Lights” by the Weeknd over the course of the two weeks I spent in Mexico last year. Both of my parents are Latin American, and every time we go back home, I can see and hear an English language influence. Many of my cousins are huge fans of British and North American musicians like Pink Floyd and Drake and incorporate English slang into their own language. And while they may not be fluent in it, I’ve had several moments where my cousins try to speak to me in English instead of Spanish. This always catches me off-guard, but I find it heartwarming.
The reason English is so widespread around the globe is due to the control the British Empire once had over vast amounts of land, with many of its former territories’ citizens speaking English to this day. Those territories include some of the world’s biggest economic players, from the United States to South Africa.
While Merriam-Webster traces the origins of English back to the 5th century A.D, it became the world’s first global language by the end of the 18th century as British colonizers spread English to all the colonies and neighboring lands. British influence on the commerce, science, diplomacy, art and education of their colonies contributed to English becoming the first true global language. Today, English is the most widely spoken language in the world, with 1.5 billion speakers, according to the World Economic Forum. However, only about 400 million people speak it as their first language, while all other speakers have a different mother tongue.
A study from the World Economic Forum in 2016 found English is the most powerful language. The organization created an equation measuring the power of a language through five different categories: geography, economy, communication, knowledge and media as well as diplomacy. English ranked first in all five categories. In second place was Chinese, including all dialects, but the score wasn’t even half that of English.
English is now incredibly important to the structure of our global society, as it’s the language of business, trade and aviation. English-speaking New York City is the international hub for trade, and London is the financial capital of the world.
In the 1950s, the International Civil Aviation Organization recommended English as the language of aviation in to help resolve some of the problems and inconveniences of air travel dominated by Western pilots. Nowadays all international pilots are required to speak English by the International Civil Aviation Organization.
English is also the official language of some big international organizations such as the United Nations, the European Union, the World Trade Organization, and the International Monetary Fund.
English has a lot of influence in Europe. I’ve never been myself, but those who I know have always told me about how traveling there isn’t as difficult as it may seem. Europeans across the continent speak English as a second language, so it’s easy to find someone in a European country to help you translate something.
There’s also English all over public transport systems to help travelers find their way around. Some languages also borrow words from English. I had a French teacher who would tell us about the words that French borrowed from English whenever they came up. The French actually use the English word “weekend” instead of their own words la fin de semaine to describe the end of the week.
Being able to speak English is a skill that is more and more sought after everyday.
Growing up in an English speaking country has allowed me to be ready for a lot of the world’s challenges. I’m much more well-equipped to travel, communicate, and immerse myself in other countries and have a basic level of understanding other places.
All of this is thanks to the influence of the English language.