New Report Highlights Increasing Global Importance of the English Language

by Ray Clancy on September 17, 2013

English is spoken at a useful level by one in four, or 1.75 billion, people worldwide and by 2020 it will be a language used by two billion people, according to a new report.

Non-native speakers of English far outnumber native speakers and speaking the language gives people a competitive edge in areas ranging from culture and media to business, commerce and power, says the report from the British Council, a charity established as the UK’s international organisation for educational opportunities and cultural relations.

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Nearly 70% of executives said their workforce will need to master English to realise corporate expansion plans


‘It is the economically active, the thought leaders, the business decision makers, the young, the movers and shakers present and future who are learning and speaking English. They are talking to each other more and more and English is the operating system of that global conversation,’ said Mark Robson, director of English and Examinations at the British Council.

The report points out that the English language was forged by the UK’s unique history and now provides a major economic contribution to the UK’s prosperity. Thousands of students come to the UK to study English, contributing some £2 billion a year to local and regional economies across the country.

Many of these students carry on to further and higher education, continuing to contribute directly through tuition fees and by living in the UK. In the process, they form personal, professional and business relationships with people and organisations which will continue when they return to leadership positions in their own countries and the report suggests that much less of this would happen without the attraction of the English language.

The report also says that English adds value well beyond the UK economy. Research shows how a good command of English can not only enhance an individual’s economic prospects but also contribute to national growth and competitiveness.

In a 2012 survey by the Economist Intelligence Unit, nearly 70% of executives said their workforce will need to master English to realise corporate expansion plans, and a quarter said that more than 50% of their total workforce will need English ability.

‘English is becoming a core criterion in determining employability. Early adopter advantages are gradually fading and are being replaced by economic disadvantage for those who do not speak the language,’ explained Robson.

‘Those who are not online or cannot speak English are increasingly left behind. English makes a significant contribution to sustainable global development. It eases trade between countries that do not share a common language,’ he pointed out.

‘It is used as a language of convenience, facilitating dialogue and building trust where an understanding of diverse positions is crucial, notably in peace keeping and conflict resolution, where security forces and other uniformed services increasingly speak to each other in English. A fairer, more prosperous world is a safer and more secure world, and English is increasingly the lingua franca that holds together the international conversation’ he added.

The British Council works in more than 100 countries with 7,000 staff, including 2,000 teachers, working with thousands of professionals and policy makers and millions of young people every year through English, arts, education and society programmes.

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