How many countries in the world speak English? Knowing this helps you understand why it is important to study English.
According to David Crystal in A History of the English Language, around 330 to 360 million people speak English as their first language.
How about the people who speak English as a second language? Estimates vary, with numbers ranging from 470 million to over 1 billion.
There are more than 50 English-speaking countries, making it the third most common primary language in the world, after Mandarin Chinese and Spanish.
The English-speaking countries we know are Australia, Canada, England, Ireland, New Zealand, Northern Ireland, Scotland, the United States, and Wales.
Many other countries recognize English as one of their languages. Most of them are former territories of English-speaking countries.
Examples of these are Botswana, Cameroon, Fiji, Guam, Hong Kong, India, Kenya, Malaysia, Nigeria, the Philippines, Puerto Rico, Singapore, South Africa, and Zimbabwe.
The following European countries also have large English-speaking populations (over 50 percent of the population): Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Greece, Luxembourg, Malta, Slovenia, and Sweden. In fact, according to the European Commission, 38 percent of Europeans consider that they can speak in English.
Clearly, learning English will be useful when you want to travel the world for both business and pleasure.
English in different accents
How do you make sure learning English prepares you for a life of travel? Work on your English listening skills!
Even when people speak the same language, the language can sound different depending on where they live. Someone from New Zealand can sound different from someone from Canada, even if they say the same words in English.
Expose yourself to English spoken in different accents, especially the accent of the English speaking country you will visit.
For example, if you are planning to spend some time in Australia, start listening to Australian English. You can look for free videos or podcasts online, but it's best to speak with someone who has an Australian accent.
This is where learning English online with schools like Learntalk has a big advantage. You get access to many online English teachers from all over the world. You can have more than one teacher, with different English accents, in one course.
We'll write more about different English accents next time!