Should English be the Official Language of the World?

Have you ever travelled to a foreign country only to find out that none of the inhabitants of that country speak English? How annoying is that?

Today’s post and subsequent video topic was inspired by a livestream I watched between Azren the Language Nerd and Matt and Abigail from Polyglot Progress. To sum up, at one point in the livestream, the topic of monolingualism came up as well as the idea of an “international language”, and it got me thinking.

Primarily, I wanted to answer two questions: should there be one single international language for the entire world? Secondly, should that international language be English? Let’s explore!

The History of English

To recap, English is a West Germanic language that originated from the Anglo-Frisian dialects brought to Great Britain starting in the 5th century. Because it is West Germanic, English is closely related to other Northwest European languages such as German, Dutch, and Frisian. Due largely to British conquests and the expansion of the British Empire starting in the 1500s, today you can find English speakers in virtually every corner of the world.

“Phylogenetic tree of the West Germanic languages with emphasis on the Anglo-frisian” by Goran tek-en.

English is an official language in 54 countries around the world, and a de facto official language in dozens more including the United States of America. According to Enthologue, English is the most spoken language in the world if you count native and second-language speakers, and it is spoken by 1.1 billion people. That means that 1 in every 7 people on Earth speak English to some degree.

On those numbers alone, if we’re trying to determine whether or not English should be the international language, this data alone says that it should. Since English is already so widespread and it has already brought together so many people of different backgrounds, it would only make sense that English becomes the Official International Language.

English: The Obvious Choice for International Language?

Babbel_generic-badgeIn addition to being the most widely spoken language in the world, there are additional reasons for why English should be the official international language. For example, English is also the international language for business. According to NationMaster, if we look at GDP figures, the Anglosphere, or countries that have English as an official or de facto official language, accounts for $22.11 trillion dollars or 25% of the global gross domestic product. Further, this number doesn’t account for the other 70-some-odd countries where English is also co-official or de facto official, but this number proves that English is the language of business, and that English-speaking countries drive the global economy.

Aside from the fact that English dominates the world market, on a more personal and practical level, having English as an official international language would effectively end miscommunication between speakers of different languages and do away with the need for people to learn other languages or have to bother with translating. Besides, 56% of the internet is in English and almost 80% of all stored information is in English as well. Can you imagine how much easier scholarship or travel or business would be if we all just spoke English? Think of how much time and energy could be saved!

Screen Shot 2018-10-29 at 9.52.01 AM
“Stats for Country Grouping: English speaking countries”, NationMaster. Retrieved from

Why English Shouldn’t Be the Official Language of the World

Now, if you watch my channel or read my blog often, I hope you have picked up on the fact that I don’t actually believe that English should be the official international language. Sure, there are some pretty compelling reasons, but I sure as heck wouldn’t waste so much time learning and talking about foreign languages if I didn’t see the value in doing so.

So, why don’t I think that English should be the official international language?

First of all, if you know anything about history, you know that empires rise and empires fall. If we look back at Europe in the year 117 CE, we see the Roman Empire at its greatest extent. During that time, large groups of people from different linguistic and cultural backgrounds spoke Latin either natively or as a second language. Fast forward 1900 years, and we can see that Latin is little more than a clerical language. It is essentially dead even though technically it evolved into the Romance languages we know today.

Roman Empire in 117 AD (Author: Tataryn)

So, what does this have to do with English?

What I’m trying to say is that the Roman Empire once dominated a large chunk of the world, but it inevitably collapsed. One day, and I have no real reason for thinking this because I can’t see into the future, the Anglosphere or the dominance of the English language will probably end as well. And when it does, English will become obsolete and undesirable, and a new language will take its place, and humans hundreds or thousands of years from now will be having a similar discussion about the world’s new lingua franca.

Now, that is hardly a reason for why English can’t be the official international language today, but there are other reasons. I believe that neither English nor any other language for that matter should be the world’s official language because it would effectively end linguistic diversity and lead to huge amounts of language death. I know it’s easy to think that language death isn’t a big deal, but for me, language death isn’t just about a language ceasing to exist: I believe it is also about losing a culture and a unique way of thinking.

We know that language impacts the way we interpret and conceptualize the world, and we know that language and culture are very strongly linked. If English became the international language, we would see language death on a large scale, and to an extent we already are, and I think it is a terrible reality for people who will inevitably lose links to their identity and their past if they adopt an English-only attitude. Personally, I know that I lament the fact that I don’t speak Italian natively because my family abandoned teaching it to us kids in favour of us learning English, and I shudder to think what would have happened if Italian had died by the time I wanted to learn it.

Related: Where Did Language Come From? (The Origins of Language)


Lastly, I also believe that English should not be the official world language because of its past. Now, I know I’m going to be labelled a snowflake and a social justice warrior and bleeding-heart liberal for saying this, but in my opinion, English’s colonial past effectively makes it the language of the oppressors as with many other European languages. The point I’m trying to make is that by dictating that English should be the official world language, we would just be continuing the ongoing legacy of colonialism by indirectly forcing people to abandon their native languages and ultimately parts of their culture to make it more convenient for those of us in positions of power.

Now, I don’t mean power in the sense of political power, I just mean that by having people in positions of power (i.e. English speakers) dictating to others (i.e. non-English speakers) that they must speak only English, we are no better than colonists who stole and killed and created a system that forbid the world’s Indigenous peoples from speaking and using their native tongues in the first place.

Whew, that got a little heavy.

I’m interested in your thoughts. Should there be an official international language? Should that language be English? Let me know in the comments below. Remember: this is a touchy topic for a lot of different people for a lot of different reasons. Please be sensitive to that. Be a nice person.

3 thoughts on “Should English be the Official Language of the World?

Add yours

  1. I think that the differnt languages are beautiful and to kill them off would be throwing away so many different cultures. I come from spanish speaking family and I don;t know what they’re saying half the time but that just makes me want to learn it more, sometimes I do wish that we spoke the same language to avoid this confusion but there are some things you can’t get from a translation or putting it into new words. There’s this word in Hebrew, I wish I could remeber it now but the only way the guy who told me it was able to describe it was an explosion of joy. English couldn’t deliver the same meaning to the word and that’s why we need different languages, it’s like when someone says vióla. It’s like saying ‘ta da’ but more if that makes sense. Or prego, there’s no direct translation in English. It would be a crime to lose such beautiful sounding languages like Italian or French or Spanish, so many songs and poems and pieces of art that snowballed into the culture we have today, opera, salsa, flamenco, french cheese (that’s all i could think of), the freaking guitar would be useless without them. And the Asian languages too, their symbols, the way you need to have your pronunciation perfected or what you said would be gibberish, their unique cultures, origami, The Great Wall, the architecture of their historic buildings. My grandpa says that he wishes he could speak English as well as my sister and I but I wish I could speak Spanish like him or Italian like my Nono or Japanese like my friend. Long story short, we need the different languages for the culture, the history and the overall beauty of the world. Because what’s a world without its differences?


  2. But having an international language doesn’t mean the other languages will disappear. There can be an universal English used for media and international communication while other languages will keep being spoken and written in their countries and regions. Basically English would be used to communicate with the world and access the shared knowledge and information while the local languages would be used in their respective places.

    Does it have to be English? Not necessarily, I’d personally prefer an artificial language but right now English is the best option for its established ubiquitousness. The best alternative is machine translation, but it hasn’t been perfected yet and it’s unknown when it will happen or if it’s going to happen at all.


  3. Why focus exclusively on the colonial legacy? English is also the language of human rights, of modern medicine and of the technological era. For the first time in human history knowledge is being distributed democratically through the internet, and humans have unprecedented learning opportunities in the English language thanks to the actions of a few countries. Are the actions we take today voided by the actions taken two centuries ago?


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