Not “Foreign” To Me!


Like it was yesterday, I can remember my sister (two years older than me) and I often pretended to speak a foreign language. I’m guessing we might have been 8 and 10 years old when we spewed a series of vowels and consonants, and applied an inflection in our voices and responses to one another (sometimes even hand gestures) in an effort to convince others we were communicating in some sort of Asian language. We were convinced we were impressing others with our bilingual finesse; clearly those within an earshot knew we were speaking the language of silly kids!


Foreign languages have always intrigued me; my grade school offered a brief introduction to French and although I can’t say anything else in French, I can still count to ten (which I hate to admit is more than I can speak in Deutsche even after living in Germany for a combined 5 years!) The options were much better by the time my daughter was in high school. Instead of giving only one or two foreign language options, the first year of foreign language was broken into one semester each of German, Spanish, Russian and French. By that time, it was pretty clear to most students in the U.S. that the option that would be most useful in our country was Spanish; she took four years of it!


I’ve met a lot of women who are a bit more than intrigued by men who speak Italian or French, or those who speak with a British accent. While I am not sure most men care about those, I have heard of men describing Russian and Spanish speaking women as exotic. But just like beauty is in the eye of the beholder, the impact of languages and accents is in the ear of the beholder!


This is so fun!


I might add that most lists of “the sexiest foreign accents” are in this order: Irish, Italian, Scottish, French and Australian. But again, those survey findings are overall and I’m guessing the answers would not be the same for male and female respondents and will vary depending upon personal experiences. When it comes to just sexiest accents, British almost always wins! I also know people who don’t even care what’s being said – as long as it’s in a foreign language or with a foreign accent!


While living here, in Germany, I’ve learned to read and interpret Deutsche much better than speaking it. After all, it’s not included on anyone’s list of top ten (or even top 20) sexiest languages! But I’ve noticed (even if you aren’t in the proximity of a U.S. military base) that much of what you see and hear is in English.


Regardless of the era in which you grew up, did you ever consider how a pop song was being heard in non-English speaking countries? Did you wonder if Germans had a Deutsche version or whether all those artists also recorded it in French, Italian, etc.? Or perhaps you thought those countries had knock-off performers to dub the songs in their language like they do with movies. I’m not just talking about today’s pop tunes; what about all the popular hits from WWII?


What version of those tunes were they listening to in France, Poland, Belgium, Russia, etc.? The answer is that they were listening to the same version as everyone in English-speaking countries; perhaps a reason other countries are much more likely to know at least a bit of English than we are to know ANY of their language!

When you walk through any European pedestrian zone filled with shoppers during the spring and summer, you are likely to hear street performers playing old time favorites (I did it my way/Fly me to the moon), which they learned the same way English-speaking countries did; in English on their local radio station!



Don’t get me wrong; most countries also have some form of pop music being performed in their native language, but those tunes do not have wide-spread appeal worldwide, so they rarely ever get any airtime outside of their own country. One very strong exception would be K-pop; a genre of popular music originating in South Korea. In fact, according to Statista.com, in a survey conducted in 18 countries in 2020, around 22.7 percent of respondents stated that the genre K-pop was “very popular” in their country.


The explanation for why most music and movies are released in English is because it’s considered an international language and according to Statista.com, in 2019 there were around 1.27 billion people worldwide who spoke English either natively or as a second language. Music and movies make money; the more listeners/viewers, the more money!


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Why Has English Become A Universal Language?

English language is spoken by 20% of the world’s population. Apart from being one of the most popular languages in the world, English is also the most commonly studied foreign language. Before we learn how it became a universal language, let’s explore a little about the history of English language.

How Did English Become The World's Most Widely Spoken Language?

For you to understand the importance of the English language as a universal phenomenon, here is a partial list of factors that contributed to its popularity.


HOLLYWOOD

Hollywood movies have the largest audience in the world. Many foreign actors have learned the English language while being part of the Hollywood circle.


Below are just a few (16) foreign-born A-Listers whose careers were dependent upon being fluent in English:


BUSINESS AND ENGLISH ARE PARTNERS IN CRIME

The world is taking globalization seriously, and having a common language only makes business easier. With top-notch corporations establishing their presence in different countries, communication becomes vital. It makes the information flow easier and gives people a common ground. There’s nothing better than the English language to do that! In fact, its extensive usage in international business has led to the term “Business English” being coined.


TALK AND SING IN ENGLISH!

If you want to make it in the international music sphere, you must know English. English music has a larger audience, as well as providing a better platform and amazing songs. Everyone must have heard an English song at least once in their lives. This gives the English language precedence over other languages when it comes to global acceptance.


BOOKS

According to the Washington Post, the most preferred language for written publications is English. There are many books written in regional languages too, however, more often than not, they are translated to English at some point, which means the English language is not only widely spoken, but also widely read.


SIMPLICITY IS BLISS


This could be debatable, but it is relatively easy to learn English in comparison to other languages. One of the main reasons behind this is that the English language has a comparatively simple grammar, its’ plurals are simpler, its’ verb conjugation is more straightforward, and it is mostly gender neutral. The English vocabulary is also easy to pick up.


ENGLISH IS THE JACK OF ALL TRADES!


English is the language of science, mathematics, technology, tourism, finance, business, and countless other areas. Each of these trades use English as a common language to communicate for the industry to prosper internationally.


VERSATILITY IS KEY


Flexibility is key; there are different ways of saying the same thing due to the size of its vocabulary. English words are classified into categories: formal English, informal English, conversational English, and slang!


THE INTERNET WINS!


According to Internet World Stats, English is the most used language on the internet - most of the content produced on the internet is in the English language. Statistics shared by The English Language Center show that a whopping 52% of the world’s most browsed websites are displayed in the English language.


Source: The Language Gallery

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Overview of English-Speaking Countries (Some of these may surprise you!)

Below, is a list of the most significant countries that have English as either a de jure or a de facto official language. The countries have been sorted based on their geographical location. An official language is defined as a language used by the citizens of that country during interactions with their government.


It should be noted that some of the countries listed have more than one official language and, therefore, English may not necessarily be their most common native language.


North America:

  • United States

  • Canada

Europe:

  • United Kingdom

  • Republic of Ireland

  • Malta

Caribbean:

  • Jamaica

  • Barbados

  • Trinidad and Tobago

  • Bahamas

  • Guyana

Oceania:

  • Australia

  • New Zealand

  • Papua New Guinea

  • Fiji

  • Samoa

  • Tonga

  • Solomon Islands

  • Micronesia

  • Vanuatu

  • Kiribati

Asia:

  • India

  • Pakistan

  • Singapore

  • Philippines

  • Sri Lanka

  • Malaysia

Africa:

  • South Africa

  • Nigeria

  • Cameroon

  • Kenya

  • Zimbabwe

  • Ghana

  • Rwanda

  • Sudan

  • Botswana

  • Ethiopia

Source: Lingoda.com

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That’s a long list!! I can’t begin to speak for all the non-English speaking countries, but I can tell you Movies, TV Shows, Books and Music are not the only places English is present in Germany. Of course, it’s very likely that English will play a much larger role in Germany anywhere that’s near a U.S. military base, but I see signs all the time that say SALE or DISCOUNTED in store windows. In some travel agency windows you might see references to “Romantic Getaways”. Even more prevalent are all the clothes on racks inside and on the sidewalks that have phrases on them in English “Make my day”, “Life is Better with Friends” (for example). Many (but definitely not the majority throughout Germany) menus are available in English.


Near military bases, a lot of the town’s signage has both languages. For example, an off-post hospital will have signs that direct you to the parking lot, the Emergency Entrance, the Children’s Section in Deutsche, as well as English. I actually prefer that because over time it helps Americans learn some Deutsche, while deciphering where we need to go without struggling to translate!


It’s was kind of funny; we are so accustomed to being in Europe where English is not the primary language for most countries, that when we took a day trip to London, it caught me off guard that I could understand everything. It takes a moment for it to sink in that this is (was) one European nation where no translations apps are needed!


We were also surprised when traveling some other countries, that in some parts of the country the names of restaurants and the only menus they have are all in English! We soon realized that’s typically in areas frequented by the British. Along the Costa Del Sol in Spain, English is almost as prevalent as in the U.S.!


I also noticed when I went to Athens and cruised the Greek Islands a couple decades ago, that the majority of vendors in the Athens Plaka area, as well as those on the Islands and even the coast of Turkey could all speak English; their livelihood was clearly dependent upon it.


I am so happy the English language isn’t foreign to me. I really admire the people who can speak (and switch between) several different languages. I’m afraid if I knew how to speak more than one language and had to alternate between them, it would sound a lot like that silly made-up language my sister and I spoke when we were kids! If I had it to do over again, I would master at least one other language.


BTW: Normal human beings speak one language. Those who speak two are bilingual, those who speak three are trilingual, and those who speak four are quadrilingual. However, those who speak 10 or more are considered a polyglot. There are even hyperpolyglots which typically describes someone who speaks more than 12 languages. However, the dispute over the person who holds the record for the most languages is debatable depending upon how one defines “fluent”….and how you define a language verses a dialect! However, I can tell you there have been reports of people throughout history who could speak as many as 70+ languages. The ability to be “fluent” is even questionable for Guinness’s polyglot record holder, Ziad Fazah, who supposedly can speak 59 world languages.

"Did you know the United States does not have an official language?

Did you know…..although 178 countries have an official language, the United States does NOT!!! Since this post is about English being spoken all over the world, I don’t want to make it about the United States by imbedding that content, but if you are from the U.S., I guarantee you will find this interesting information from Babble.com! If you are tired of reading, you can opt for the very short video. It also includes interesting info about dialects spoken across America and how they are perceived by others. A short and very informative read!


Another recommended short read: Five Reasons Why English Is The “Global Language of Today, (from the Speak English Center) which includes something I’ve never heard about the English Language – A Coolness factor!

So the next time you’re driving down an American highway, singing along with the radio or your playlist, remember how lucky you are to be living in a country where you totally understand all the lyrics of every song; that those tunes are actually only available in English!



Some great resources on the English language:

The Language Gallery

Speak English Center Babble.com