How many people speak English in the World?
Did you know that there are approximately 7.8 billion people on Earth? If we look around ourselves, we might get the impression that almost everyone speaks the English language. Yet, that is not true. In reality, only 4.9% of people around the world speak the English language. Such is the wide variety of languages spoken globally. Granted, English is the official language of communication and business correspondence across the world, it is the first language of only a small number of countries. As a result, it has opted as an official language in a few countries. Nevertheless, it is interesting to find how many people actually speak the English language and how many English speaking countries there are in the world.
At present, there are approximately 1348 million English speakers in the world. Consequently, it comes as no surprise that businesses are striving to get their content translated into the English language. For that, they take the help of professional translation services and translation companies.
Before we explore the countries where the English language is spoken, let’s take a look at a brief history of the English language and how it originated.
The English language—A Brief History
A member of the Germanic language family, English originally descended from Proto-Germanic. On the other hand, other languages which descended from Proto-Germanic include German, Swedish and Dutch, along with 43 other Germanic languages. Furthermore, English is an Indo-European language—the largest language family in the world.
The English language essentially originated in Britain and the ever-expanding British Empire led to its spread throughout the world. In fact, historical language experts trace back the origin of the English language to the fifth century. This was the time when Germanic tribes invaded Britain. As a result of the invasion, the languages intermingled to form Old English. This intermingling of languages eventually gave way to Middle English.
English started to become more standardized during the medieval era. The British Empire was actually credited with the real spread of the language. As this empire invaded regions around the world, it took English with it, thus spreading it far and wide.
Today, English is spoken by over 1 billion people around the globe. It can be said that there are two main factors that actually contributed to the evolution towards Modern English. Firstly, the advent of printing in the 16th century gave way to the mass production of the language. In the next century, the spellings of the words became standardized and words began to travel further around the world. Secondly, the colonialism and imperialism of the British Empire led to the imposition of the English language in the invaded territories. Interestingly, when this Empire was coming to a close, it was replaced with American Imperialism which made English as widespread as we witness it today.
The English Language—Spread and Usage
Despite the official number of almost 1 billion English speakers around the globe, it is actually hard to define exactly how many people speak English. However, before we explore the answer to the question of how many people speak English in the world, let’s define what it actually means for a country to be “English speaking”.
There are approximately 18 countries where a majority of the population speaks English as a native language. Examples include countries such as Australia and the Bahamas. However, this number is far from the total number, as it does not include countries where English is the official language but not the primary spoken language. In fact, more than 50 countries have English as an official language but in many of them, not everyone speaks the language in day-to-day life.
Then comes the de facto language. De facto means that English is the primary language of daily life in these countries, but is not formally listed as the official language. For example, the US has English as its de facto language but does not have an official language of its own.
Finally, there are many countries where English is spoken as a minor language. This means that only a minority of the population speaks it or it is used in certain areas only, such as in academics and business meetings.
This all seems quite confusing, which is why we have compiled a list of English speaking countries. Let’s take a look at the countries and their continents.
The English Language—Official Records
The world’s total population is approximately 7.8 billion. Out of this number, 1.35 billion speak English. However, the majority of these are not native English speakers. Approximately 360 million people speak English as a first language. On the global front, the most commonly spoken language is Chinese, followed by Spanish and then English. Not surprisingly, English is by far the most studied foreign language in the world and is followed by the French language.
A Look at the English Speaking Countries
English Speaking Countries in the Americas
English Speaking Countries In the Americas, English is spoken widely, making it hard to estimate the total number of speakers—but these are around 350 million. A majority of these native English speakers—approximately 297 million—live in the US. Another 30 million native English speakers live in Canada. Although many of the countries in the Caribbean have English as the official language, it is mainly left behind due to colonialism. This is why a majority of the population does not speak Standard English.
There are approximately 14 million people in South and Central America who speak English. Many of these speakers reside in Argentina (5.9 million), Colombia (2 million), Chile (1.97 million), and Puerto Rico (1.7 million).
Here are the countries where people speak English is spoken as an official language:
- Cayman Islands
- Puerto Rico
- Saint Kitts and Nevis
- The Virgin Islands
Although English is the official language, many of the people living in these countries do not speak English as their first language. Many of them communicate in Spanish, French, and other languages in their day-to-day lives.
English speaking European Countries
English Speaking European Countries Approximately 212 million English speakers reside in Europe. As a result, people often use English as a lingua franca who don’t speak it as a first language. In the United Kingdom, there are approximately 60 million English speakers. In fact, if we break down this number, there are 49.8 million speakers in England and Wales, 5 million in Scotland, and 1.7 million in North Island.
Germany comes next with the most number of English speakers—approximately 45.8 million. The next countries are France (25.4 million), and Italy (20.7 million). However, the majority of these people do not speak English as their native language—only about 240,000 people speak English natively in Germany.
These are the countries in Europe where English is the official language:
- North Ireland
English Speaking Countries in Asia
English Speaking Countries in Asia have fewer English native speakers as compared to other continents. However, a majority of people speak English as a second or a foreign language. Although this population of English speakers is hard to calculate, official statistics place it around 460 million.
India, the country colonized and invaded by the British until the 20th century, has the greatest population of English speakers—around 265 million. Next comes the Philippines (50 million), Bangladesh (29 million), and Pakistan (25 million).
These are the countries in Asia that have English as the de facto or official language. This does not mean, however, that people speak it as a native language in these regions:
- The Philippines
- Sri Lanka
English Speaking Countries in Africa
English Speaking Countries Like Asia, the countries in Africa have English as an official language mainly due to colonialism. However, only 6.5 million Africans speak English as their native tongue out of a population of 1.2 billion. Many of these Africans have learned English as a second language. This means that approximately 237 million people in Africa speak English either as a native or a non-native language.
On the other hand, many of the African countries have other official languages. For example, South Africa has a total of 11 different official languages, with people speaking more dialects in the region. Although English is the official language in these countries, many people do not speak English. The greatest numbers of English speakers reside in Nigeria (111 million). Then comes Uganda (29 million), South Africa (16 million), and Cameroon (9.8 million).
Here is a list of African countries that come under the list of English speaking countries as their people speak English as an official language.
- South Africa
- Saint Helena
- United Republic of Tanzania
- Sierra Leone
English Speaking Countries in Oceania
English Speaking Countries in oceania. There are approximately 30 million speakers in Oceania. In Australia, English is the official language but is the de facto language in the region. The majority population—about 22 million Australians speak English as their native language. On the other hand, New Zealand has about 4 million English speakers, but they speak a different dialect of English known as New Zealand English. Papua New Guinea (3.2 million) and Fiji (200,000) comes next. Other countries which speak English are the Cook Islands and Samoa.
These countries have a population that speaks English as the official language, although it might not be the primary language here.
- Marshall Islands
- Northern Mariana Islands
- Papua New Guinea
- Solomon Islands
Countries having the Highest English Proficiency
There is a need to explore how many countries are proficient in English after we have taken a look at the countries where English is spoken. So, this proficiency refers to the highest number of people who speak English well.
According to EF, a company administering English exams to companies has set up EPI—an English Proficiency Index which highlights the English-speaking proficiency level of people. Here are the countries where the EPI score is the highest.
- The Netherlands: 15 million English speakers
- About 90% of people speak English in the Netherlands and their EPI score is 73.8—the highest in the tested regions.
- Sweden: 8.2 million English speakers and a score of 71.7
- Denmark: 4.8 million English speakers and EPI score of 72.9
- Norway: 4.5 million English speakers and EPI score of 71.3
- Finland: 3.8 million English speakers and EPI score of 69.2
The Role of Translation in the English Language
By having a look at the population of English speaking countries, one cannot deny the importance of learning English. The same applies to businesses across the world as well. In fact, those companies which want to make an impact on the global audience just need to translate their content into the English language. This is where a professional and expert translation agency comes in. An expert language agency is likely to have a team of linguists who understand the importance of translating in the English language and would perform the work of translation skillfully.
The Last Word
English plays a role in the globalization process. With increasingly shifting demographics, urbanization, and localization efforts, the need to learn a universal language like English has become greater than ever before. This is the reason why companies, as well as individuals, should extend their horizons to include English as their language of correspondence and communication with the stakeholders and the global audience.
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