It’s unsurprising to hear that the USA has the biggest number of English speakers (as it has such a huge population), but it only narrowly beats India. Numbers from 2000 show that the US has 251,388,301 English speakers, with India at an impressive 232,000,000 (23% of their population). Nigeria comes in third with 79 million English speakers (about 4 million of them being native speakers), and the UK comes in fourth with 59,600,000.
The rest of the top ten are as follows:
5. Philippines (49,800,000)
6. Germany (46,000,000)
7. Canada (25,246,220)
8. France (23,000,000)
9. Pakistan (18,000,000)
10. Australia (17,357,833)
I had always been under the impression that not that many Italians spoke English, but Italy came in at number 11 with 17 million English speakers.
Source: Wikipedia (note: numbers are not quite accurate as it’s hard to judge proficiency levels or a baseline English ability, especially with English as a second or third language).
In a country where English is ranked 44th in terms of native languages spoken, male* workers who are proficient in the language can earn, on average, 34% more than their non-English speaking counterparts. Younger workers in India would also need to have a good level of general education in order for their English skills to give them higher wages (that is, if a person were to do a crash course in English without gaining education in other areas, they would not reap the same benefits as someone who went to university).
Even though there are numerous other languages spoken in India, it is English that makes the difference at the moment. I don’t think this is likely to change any time soon, so hopefully policymakers will take steps to make it easier for students to attain a higher level of English in order for them to get the best opportunities once they reach the workplace.
Full article: DNA India.
*Information was less reliable about women in India, although it is suggested that English-speaking women can earn significantly more than non-English speaking women, though only in urban areas.
Most people think of language as a way to communicate and describe the world around us, but have you ever considered how much our language affects how we see the world?
I read a great article on the Wall Street Journal about just this. It’s not something that I really think about unless it’s put in front of me, but language really can affect how we interpret the world.
One of the most interesting parts of the article talks about how some cultures (up to a third of languages!) don’t have words like left and right, and instead talk about direction in absolute terms (north, south, etc.). In these languages, you would talk about things like your east leg, or your northwest arm, depending on which direction you were facing. If you’re thinking about absolute directions all the time, you are most likely going to be better at finding your way around. Also fascinating was that for people who speak languages where no blame is given to accidental wrongs (e.g. someone knocking over a glass), it is more difficult to remember who did it. For example, in English we would say that ‘Jack knocked the glass over’, but in Japanese or Spanish, they would just say that the glass had been knocked over. I wonder how much this has perpetuated the tendency in English-speaking countries to lay blame on others for things that happen to us.
Does language shape culture, or does the culture we live in affect the language we use?
Being a bit of a pedant, I have quite a few peeves when it comes to the English language. I don’t really have any favourites, but this post on Hyperbole and a Half has given new meaning to pet peeve. Allie, the brilliant author, has turned her despair at the common mistake alot (misspelling of ‘a lot’) into a wonderfully surreal alternative. Every time she sees someone write alot, she imagines it to be a mythical animal by the name of Alot. The image at left is entitled I care about this Alot.
I know that I’m going to be imagining this cute, furry animal whenever I see alot from now on. There may need to be some creative rearranging of punctuation, but Alot is very versatile and should cover most situations. Thanks, Alot, Allie!
The blog on MacMillan Dictionary’s website has an ongoing campaign called What’s your English?, which focuses on regional usage of English from all over the world. Each month is assigned to a different regional English, from native speaking countries as well as countries where it is a major foreign language. This month is dedicated to Indian English, and past months have explored American English, Chinese English, Russian English, South African English, and more.
The campaign relies a lot on user submissions, so if you have a blog post, tweet, word definition, or video to submit about your own English, or experience with someone else’s, have a look at this post to get instructions on how to submit something. If your English isn’t on the list yet, I’m sure they’ll get around to dedicating a month to it sometime soon!
I was reading through some of the great posts on English with Rae recently (if you are learning English, or would just like some topics to write or speak about in your target language, definitely check it out), and came across one that mentioned going back to basics. This is a pen talks about how even though these basic sentences are easy, and learning them might be boring, they are crucial as the building blocks for more complicated conversations. You may not think that knowing how to say ‘this is my new ruler’ is going to come in handy, but you do have to walk before you can run (crawling slowly is also an option).
A few days ago, I was at a Chinese restaurant. One of my friends was in need of a spoon, and she asked if anyone knew the Chinese word for it. Now, even though I have basic conversation skills and can talk about the weather and order food, I have a big hole in my vocabulary where basic things like kitchen implements should be. The next day, I went back to basics and looked up utensils and basic homewares and did some other vocabulary practice. Now I know how to say this is a spoon*, and I need a fork. Success!
*Learning basic patterns like ‘this is a…’ are actually really useful for Chinese, because they let you practise classifiers, which are the measure words for items. There are quite a few of these, and they depend on certain properties of the objects. Unfortunately the best way to learn these is rote memorisation!
I’ve had a bit of a change in my schedule lately which means that I have a much longer commute than before. I hate getting up early in the morning, but I’ve been trying to look at the upside – I have more time before and after work to listen to music, catch up on news, watch TV, or, most importantly, work on my language study. I’ve been flicking through some flashcards on the subway, and also listening to some language podcasts (right now I’m listening to Chinese Lessons by Serge Melnyk and lessons from Popup Chinese).
I’ve never really taken advantage of the speed adjustment on my iPod Touch before, but I was listening to a dialogue the other day that was just that little bit too fast. I slowed it down to half speed and tried again. It was a little bit jumpy, but generally worked quite well. After listening to that specific dialogue a couple of times at half speed, I changed it back to normal and it was fairly comprehensible. I also made use of the little go back button (I don’t know what it’s actually called) which jumps you back 30 seconds instead of having to try to rewind with the slider. I still haven’t found a use for the 2x speed, but maybe it would be a slightly more accurate way to cue up the part of the podcast you need.
For intermediate and advanced learners, perhaps this function will allow you to subscribe to podcasts completely in your target language. There are podcasts about pretty much anything these days, so it is another great way to integrate your language and your interests. If the speakers go too fast, slow it down for the first couple of listens, and then see if you can understand the regular speed. Try news programs for a slightly slower pace.
Unfortunately this function doesn’t exist for regular audio files or voice memos (just podcasts) on iPod, so it’s not that useful for your own recordings. If anyone knows of any apps or other players that can get around this, drop me a note in the comments.
I recently stumbled across Digital Dialects, a website providing vocabulary-learning games for not just one, but 60 different languages. These range from Afrikaans to Zazaki, a few of which I hadn’t even heard of (including the latter, which is spoken in eastern Turkey). The games are simple and focus on basic word categories like numbers, food, and animals. Each game has images and many have sound, as well as options such as choosing to read a word or listen to it. Each language has a different combination of games depending on the vocabulary, and I think they would be suitable for both children and adults at a beginner level. All of the games are free to use.
Whether you are just starting out in a language, want to pick up some useful vocabulary before a trip abroad, have a child who is studying, or just want to know how to count to 10 in as many languages as possible (I met a kid in Cambodia who could do this in at least 10 languages), check it out.