Approximately 430 million people speak English as their first language. English today is the third largest language by number of native speakers, after Mandarin Chinese and Spanish. However, when combining native and non-native speakers it is probably the most commonly spoken language in the world, though possibly second to a combination of the Chinese languages (depending on whether distinctions in the latter are classified as "languages" or "dialects").
Estimates that include second language speakers vary greatly from 470 million to over a billion depending on how literacy or mastery is defined and measured. Linguistics professor David Crystal calculates that non-native speakers now outnumber native speakers by a ratio of 3 to 1.
The countries with the highest populations of native English speakers are, in descending order: the United States (292 million), the United Kingdom (61 million), Canada (18.2 million), Australia (15.5 million), Nigeria (4 million), Ireland (3.8 million), South Africa (3.7 million), and New Zealand (3.6 million) in a 2006 Census.
Countries such as the Philippines, Jamaica and Nigeria also have millions of native speakers of dialect continua ranging from an English-based creole to a more standard version of English. Of those nations where English is spoken as a second language, India has the most such speakers (see Indian English). Crystal claims that, combining native and non-native speakers, India now has more people who speak or understand English than any other country in the world.
English-speaking countries in order of total speakers
|Country||Total||Percent of population||First language||As an additional language||Population||Comment|
|United States||291,524,091||92.2%||230,947,071||47,007,767||316,128,839||Source: American Community Survey: Language Use in the United States: 2011, Table 1. Figure for second language speakers are respondents who reported they do not speak English at home but know it "very well" or "well." Figures are for population age 5 and older.|
|India||125,344,736||12%||226,449||125,118,287||1,028,737,436||Source: Census 2001, Figures include both those who speak English as a second language and those who speak it as a third language. The figures include English speakers, but not English users.|
|Pakistan||88,690,000||49%||88,690,000||180,440,005||Source: Euromonitor International report 2009. "The Benefits of the English Language for Individuals and Societies: Quantitative Indicators from Cameroon,Nigeria, Rwanda, Bangladesh and Pakistan." 'A custom report compiled by Euromonitor International for the British Council'.|
|Nigeria||79,000,000||53%||4,000,000||75,000,000||148,000,000||Figures are for speakers of Nigerian Pidgin, an English-based pidgin or creole. Ihemere gives a range of roughly 3 to 5 million native speakers; the midpoint of the range is used in the table. Ihemere, Kelechukwu Uchechukwu (2006). "A Basic Description and Analytic Treatment of Noun Clauses in Nigerian Pidgin". Nordic Journal of African Studies 15 (3): 296–313.|
|United Kingdom||59,600,000||98%||58,100,000||1,500,000||60,000,000||Source: Crystal (2005), p. 109.|
|Philippines||43,994,000||52%||20,000||43,974,000||84,566,000||Ethnologue lists 3.4 million native speakers with 52% of the population speaking it as an additional language.|
|Canada||25,246,220||85%||19,003,665||4,391,676||33,121,175||Source: 2011 Census|
|Australia||18,172,989||92%||15,581,329||2,591,660||19,855,288||Source: 2006 Census. The figure shown in the first language English speakers column is actually the number of Australian residents who speak only English at home. The additional language column shows the number of other residents who claim to speak English "well" or "very well". Another 5% of residents did not state their home language or English proficiency.|
|South Africa||16,424,417||31%||4,892,623||11,531,794||52,981,991||Source: 2011 Census. Native speakers = people speaking English at home|
|Ireland||4,450,252||94%||4,270,000||275,000||4,588,252||Sources: 2011 Census, Ethnologue 2012|
|New Zealand||3,673,626||91.2%||3,008,058||665,568||4,027,947||Source: 2006 Census. The figures are people who can speak English with sufficient fluency to hold an everyday conversation. The figure shown in the first language English speakers column is actually the number of New Zealand residents who reported to speak English only, while the additional language column shows the number of New Zealand residents who reported to speak English as one of two or more languages.|
|Note: Total = First language + Other language; Percentage = Total / Population|
Belize, Jamaica, Trinidad
Countries where English is a major language
English is the primary language in Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, Australia, the Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Bermuda, the British Indian Ocean Territory, the British Virgin Islands, Canada, the Cayman Islands, Dominica, the Falkland Islands, Gibraltar, Grenada, Guam, Guernsey, Guyana, Ireland, the Isle of Man, Jamaica, Jersey, Montserrat, Nauru, New Zealand, Pitcairn Islands, Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Singapore, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, Trinidad and Tobago, the Turks and Caicos Islands, the United Kingdom and the United States.
In some countries where English is not the most spoken language, it is an official language; these countries include Botswana, Cameroon, the Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, Gambia, Ghana, Hong Kong, India, Kenya, Kiribati, Lesotho, Liberia, Malta, the Marshall Islands, Mauritius, Namibia, Nigeria, Pakistan, Palau, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines (Philippine English), Rwanda, Saint Lucia, Samoa, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, the Solomon Islands, Sri Lanka, Sudan, South Africa, South Sudan, Swaziland, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. Also there are countries where in a part of the territory English became a co-official language, e.g. Colombia's San Andrés y Providencia and Nicaragua's Mosquito Coast. This was a result of the influence of British colonization in the area.
English is one of the 11 official languages that are given equal status in South Africa (South African English). It is also the official language in current dependent territories of Australia (Norfolk Island, Christmas Island and Cocos Island) and of the United States (American Samoa, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico (in Puerto Rico, English is co-official with Spanish), and the US Virgin Islands), and the former British colony of Hong Kong. (See List of countries where English is an official language for more details.)
Although the United States federal government has no official languages, English has been given official status by 30 of the 50 state governments. Although falling short of official status, English is also an important language in several former colonies and protectorates of the United Kingdom, such as Bahrain, Bangladesh, Brunei, Cyprus, Malaysia, and the United Arab Emirates.
English as a global language
Because English is so widely spoken, it has often been referred to as a "world language", the lingua franca of the modern era, and while it is not an official language in most countries, it is currently the language most often taught as a foreign language. It is, by international treaty, the official language for aeronautical and maritime communications. English is one of the official languages of the United Nations and many other international organizations, including the International Olympic Committee.
English is studied most often in the European Union, and the perception of the usefulness of foreign languages among Europeans is 67% in favor of English ahead of 17% for German and 16% for French (as of 2012). Among some of the non-English-speaking EU countries, the following percentages of the adult population claimed to be able to converse in English in 2012: 90% in the Netherlands, 89% in Malta, 86% in Sweden and Denmark, 73% in Cyprus and Austria, 70% in Finland, and over 50% in Greece, Luxembourg, Slovenia and Germany. In 2012, excluding native speakers, 38% of Europeans consider that they can speak English, but only 3% of Japanese people.
Books, magazines, and newspapers written in English are available in many countries around the world, and English is the most commonly used language in the sciences with Science Citation Index reporting as early as 1997 that 95% of its articles were written in English, even though only half of them came from authors in English-speaking countries.
English literature predominates considerably with 28% of all volumes published in the world [leclerc 2011] and 30% of web content in 2011 (from 50% in 2000).
This increasing use of the English language globally has had a large impact on many other languages, leading to language shift and even language death, and to claims of linguistic imperialism. English itself has become more open to language shift as multiple regional varieties feed back into the language as a whole.
The Anglosphere is the set of countries where English is not only the widest-spoken language, but the predominant one.
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- "U.S. Census Bureau, Statistical Abstract of the United States: 2003, Section 1 Population" (PDF). U.S. Census Bureau. Table 47 gives the figure of 214,809,000 for those five years old and over who speak exclusively English at home. Based on the American Community Survey, these results exclude those living communally (such as college dormitories, institutions, and group homes), and by definition exclude native English speakers who speak more than one language at home.
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- Population by mother tongue and age groups, 2006 counts, for Canada, provinces and territories–20% sample data, Census 2006, Statistics Canada.
- Census Data from Australian Bureau of Statistics Main Language Spoken at Home. The figure is the number of people who only speak English at home.
- Figures are for speakers of Nigerian Pidgin, an English-based pidgin or creole. Ihemere gives a range of roughly 3 to 5 million native speakers; the midpoint of the range is used in the table. Ihemere, Kelechukwu Uchechukwu (2006). "A Basic Description and Analytic Treatment of Noun Clauses in Nigerian Pidgin". Nordic Journal of African Studies 15 (3): 296–313.
- Census in Brief, page 15 (Table 2.5), 2001 Census, Statistics South Africa
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- Crystal, David (2004-11-19) Subcontinent Raises Its Voice, Guardian Weekly.
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- For the distinction between "English Speakers" and "English Users", see: TESOL-India (Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages). Their article explains the difference between the 350 million number mentioned in a previous version of this Wikipedia article and a more plausible 90 million number:
Wikipedia's India estimate of 350 million includes two categories – "English Speakers" and "English Users". The distinction between the Speakers and Users is that Users only know how to read English words while Speakers know how to read English, understand spoken English as well as form their own sentences to converse in English. The distinction becomes clear when you consider the China numbers. China has over 200~350 million users that can read English words but, as anyone can see on the streets of China, only handful of million who are English speakers.
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