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Why English?

When you grew up in an English-speaking country, what were your thoughts regarding other countries when you watched movies, listened to music, and watched music videos in ENGLISH? Did you think there were Italian, Spanish, Deutsch, French versions of all of them? Did you think they heard the same words to each song/movie in their native language? If anything like me, you took the English version for granted and didn’t give a thought to how other countries heard or understood!

Well, the truth is they not only heard those tunes in English, but it’s how many foreigners learned to speak English!

When Germans watched music videos of Material Girl by Madonna, Girls Just Want to Have Fun by Cindi Lauper, Thriller by Michael Jackson, We Will Rock You or We Are The Champions by Queen, or ANY pop/contemporary artist throughout history, it was pretty easy to grasp the meaning without actually being fluent in English. This, along with American or English movies and TV shows has served as an English language learning tool.

But that was then……..let’s talk about now and how/why English has become the prevailing language. English is the official language of 53 countries in the world and the most widely spoken second language. It has become the most useful language to learn for international travel, being the de facto language of diplomacy, communications, business and entertainment.

Here are 5 Reasons Why English Has Become Today’s Global Language:

1) The British Empire. The first, and most obvious reason that English became widespread in the first place is because of the British Empire. Before colonizing around a quarter of the planet (!), Britons were the only ones speaking English, and the language was confined to the British Isles. But once they started doing trade with places like Asia and Africa, colonizing and settling around the globe, the language naturally spread. However, it was mainly used in administration and business dealings—locals were still speaking their native languages for the most part. But when it came to getting an education, that was done in English. So English then became an elitist language of sorts, spoken by those who were educated in literature, philosophy and poetry, much like French was back when it was the most widely spoken language. So how did English take over French as the most spoken language? Well there’s more to the story than the Brits.

2) Post-war USA. The world after the first two world wars was a vulnerable and changing one. American businesses were booming and started doing trade all over the world, much like Great Britain had done in the previous century. This bolstered the use of English as the language of global trade. But at the same time, American culture was being exported heavily through music and film. The advent of jazz, rock n’ roll and other popular music from both the USA and UK infiltrated the culture of people everywhere, making English more than just the language of business, but the language of entertainment for the masses. Hollywood was also booming with popular films exported worldwide, and then in the 1960’s the counter-culture movement arrived with social change and the hippie movement sweeping across the USA and Europe. Which brings us to the next point:

3) The coolness factor. English is used across the world to signify a certain lifestyle or culture linked to American-style success or entertainment, or sometimes to signify a certain British quality. Advertisers use it all over the world in multi-national markets to sell their products in this way. But, it is also the most common language used in the film and music industry. Big-budget movies and everyone’s favorite classic films are mostly produced in English. In music, if a band wants to become popular or famous, they will produce their work in English as well. Maybe it’s because English will reach a wider audience, or maybe because English is taken more seriously as an element of good pop music. And then there are sports—American-invented sports today like BMX and skateboarding, and even basketball, have an entire vocabulary in English, and many of the best athletes in those fields are English-speaking—even if they have been recruited from abroad!

4) Technology. At the same time that the USA was becoming the world’s business superpower, the internet was also invented in the USA. This created an entire lexicon for computers and technology that was invented in English. Computer keyboards are suited for writing languages using the Latin alphabet, and the hardware for all our smart technology uses English words that have become commonly used around the world, as there was no other alternative in place when the technology spread like fire to the corners of the Earth. The world of science is also dominated by English for much the same reason: historically, universities publishing important research were doing so in English, and as a scientist today, any serious publication must be done in English. With science and technology playing such a big role in our lives today, English won’t be going anywhere soon.

Some Interesting Food for Thought….going back to Franco, Mussolini and Hitler!

Southern Europe has a long tradition of dubbing films and TV shows

Ever wondered what classic TV shows like The Simpsons, Friends, The Big Bang Theory or How I Met your Mother sound like in another language? Think no more! In most Southern European countries you’ll see that it’s mandatory to dub these and other sitcoms and films into the local languages in order to show them in cinemas and national television.

And speaking of dubbing.......check out Friends in German!! It's pretty a funny:)

Countries like Italy, Spain and France are known for dubbing all their international content, but – as the below table shows – they are not the only ones. Surprisingly, Austria, Germany and even Switzerland also dub films and TV shows.

Watching dubbed content allows viewers to focus on the action and immerse themselves in the imagery of a film. But this is not the only reason many countries dub content. Politics, history and the economy all influence the decision to dub.

Although a big part of the early 20th century European population had low literacy levels, dubbing was necessary to reach the masses. This technique was also used by totalitarian regimes that originated in the 1930s to manipulate and censor critical information. Franco in Spain, Mussolini in Italy and Hitler in Germany are just a few of the leaders that insisted on this type of censorship. *

Dubbing has been used in many cases as a tool to remove opinions that were opposed to the ruling class or to alter morally undesirable elements of films. Countries like Italy or Spain also used dubbing as a way to impose their local languages (Italian and Castilian Spanish, respectively) over local dialects and minority languages, like Sicilian, Napolitan, Basque, Galician or Catalan.

After the end of totalitarian regimes, dubbing had become so widespread that populations in Southern Europe became used to it. As a result, there are still many unions today that defend the rights of dubbing actors and push for legal protection for those who do this as a career.

Instead of dubbing, some countries -particularly those from the Eastern European block- have chosen to use voice overs. In these cases, there’s only one actor reading the parts of all characters.

*I think it’s probably safe to say that even today we still have dictators who don’t allow any English influences in their countries; I wish I had a follower who would tell us if they still get to listen to pop music in English!


Did you know that The Beatles recorded two of their songs in German? And Elvis sang a German folk song partially in Swabian dialect? Johnny Cash, David Bowie, Connie Frances, Dionne Warwick, Marvin Gaye, and The Beach Boys all have recorded songs in German. In the 1960s it was not unheard of that artists released some of their songs in German for the German market. You have to remember that during that time, English was not the musical lingua franca it is today.

In 1964, The Beatles were pressured to record some of their songs in German to be successful in Germany. It turns out it wasn’t necessary but two singles were released: “Komm’, gib mir deine Hand” (I want to hold your hand) and “Sie liebt dich” (She loves you).

Like Elvis, Johnny Cash was also stationed in West Germany. He worked as a radio intercept operator in Landsberg for the US Air Force from 1951-1954. Unlike Elvis, he wasn’t a known musician when he was sent to Germany.

Cash and two friends formed a band while in Germany but went their separate ways when they returned to the US. Cash recorded a couple of his songs in German, like “Wer kennt den Weg?” (I walk the line), “Wo ist zu Hause, Mama?” (Five feet and rising), and “Viel zu spät” (I got stripes).

David Bowie released “Heroes” in 1977, and also recorded a German and a French version, “Helden” and “Héros” respectively.

Bowie recorded the album at Hansa Tonstudio in West Berlin and reflects the atmosphere of the Cold War. The song “Heroes” was inspired by a couple who Bowie saw meeting under a guard turret by the Berlin Wall. It was later revealed that the couple was co-producer Tony Visconte (who was married at the time) and the German back-up singer Antonia Maaß.

One of the most iconic American singers, Dionne Warwick, also recorded some of her songs in German. She never performed them live but she said in interviews that learning the German words and recording them was a joy because Marlene Dietrich was her coach.

Her German songs are “Geh’ vorbei” (Walk on by), and “Ich warte jeden Tag” (You’ll never go to heaven), released in 1965.

You might know Marvin Gaye for his iconic album “What’s going on?” from 1971. But before he became politically outspoken and openly critical of societal problems, he was singing love songs for Motown.

A song we probably all know is “How sweet it is”, released in 1965. That is also the song that was translated into German as “Wie schön es ist” and performed by Gaye himself. The A-side of the single is “Sympatica” which is a song that only exists in German

The Beach Boys’ song “In my room” from 1963 was translated into German by Mike Love’s German girl-friend or neighbor (it’s not clear). The title in German is “Ganz allein” which means “all alone”.

BTW:I just discovered this source and I LOVE IT!!! An excellent resource for learning about Germany; I’ll be saving it as a fav!!

I’m so happy to have grown up in an English-speaking (predominantly) country and also one where the work of foreign-speaking artists is permitted. Even though I don’t understand Spanish or Italian, I love listening to some songs in those languages. I also like a lot of songs I hear in Deutsch, but they are rarely mainstream songs with a wide appeal so I never heard any except while living in Germany. Even many of the venues here in Germany feature cover bands who play classic rock in English! However, if you ever have the opportunity to hang in pub or beer garden in Germany right after a local football (soccer in the US) team has just had a big win, or on a holiday worth celebrating, you’ll will find yourself being immersed in the joyous songs being sung in Deutsch!

And occasionally, especially in areas where the Germans have embraced the large presence of Americans, you might here both English and Deutsch being intertwined. The best example of that I’ve heard is during Fasching! Yes, there’s usually a fair amount of drinking going on by late afternoon during Fasching.

One of the first phrases you learn when you arrive in Germany is “Das Alles” which means “that’s all”, so you might use it at a restaurant to indicate you don’t want anything more, or when ou have already chosen several items in a retail store and the sales lady wants to know if there’s anything more she can help you with. The second word is pronounced much like we would say the girl’s name “Alice”.

I was quite surprised the first time I attended a Fasching event when the band was about to quit playing and announced “das alles” and the crowd repeated over and over…. “das alles, das alles…… “Who the f#%@ is Alice?” And yes, both Americans and Germans sing it together. Fasching is one of those German celebrations in which the Americans love to party along😊 If you don’t know what Fasching is………and you live in Germany……I recommend you check it out quickly! It’s going on as we speak with parades in many villages on the 20th and/or 21st of February, large and small. See previous post on Fasching

This is probably a good time to extend a note of appreciation to all the Germans who would be more comfortable speaking in their native tongue, but who go out of their way to accommodate the MANY English-speaking guests living in their country!



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