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Frequently Asked Questions
The English language
How many people speak English?
English has official or special status in at least seventy five countries with a total population of over two billion
English is spoken as a first language by around 375 million and as a second language by around 375 million speakers in the world*
speakers of English as a second language probably outnumber those who speak it as a first language
around 750 million people are believed to speak English as a foreign language
one out of four of the world's population speak English to some level of competence; demand from the other three-quarters is increasing.


David Crystal-The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language
Cambridge University Press, 1995

David Crystal- English as a global language
Cambridge University Press, 1997

David Graddol- The Future of English?
London, British Council, 1997

What do people use English for?
English is the main language of books, newspapers, airports and air-traffic control, international business and academic conferences, science, technology, diplomacy, sport, international competitions, pop music and advertising
over two-thirds of the world's scientists read in English
three quarters of the world's mail is written in English
eighty per cent of the world's electronically stored information is in English
of the estimated 200 million users of the Internet, some thirty-six per cent communicate in English
How many people are learning English?
by the year 2000 it was estimated that over one billion people will be learning English
at any one time there are 130,000 students learning English and other skills through the medium of English in British Council teaching centres worldwide
How many people come to the UK to learn English?
around 700,000 people come to learn English in the UK each year.
What economic benefits does English bring to the UK?
British English language products are worth over 800 million pounds a year to the UK
the total expenditure of the 700,000 visitors to the UK annually to learn English is over 700 million pounds - possibly over one billion pounds*
the English language makes it possible for British companies to develop markets, sell into them and form commercial alliances; it brings direct benefits through the supply of English teaching goods and services.

*Source: The Value of Education and Training Exports to the UK Economy -Department of Education and Employment, 1998

What other benefits does English have for the UK?
tourists are encouraged to visit the UK
businesspeople are encouraged to invest and build partnerships with the UK
people are encouraged to watch British films, read books by British authors, and listen to British radio and popular music.
How many people speak/use English in X country?

there are no firm statistics for this for the world in general for several reasons:

  • what do you mean by 'speak English'?
  • how much English?
  • to what level - is the taxi driver at the airport who says '20 dollars to hotel' an English speaker?
there is no reliable method of gathering the statistics
there are statistics for a restricted list of countries in which 'English has held, or continues to hold a special place' and these are available in David Crystal's 'Encyclopedia of the English Language'(p109)
nearly one in two European Union citizens claim to be able to converse in English* according to a survey carried out in 1998, and 69 per cent of survey respondents who did not speak English as their first language felt that it was the most important language for them to learn or use.

Source: Eurobarometer 50 *This includes the 16 per cent of EU citizens who speak English as their first language.

How many people are learning English in X country?
for children, the answer is often all children of secondary school age, so contact the Ministry of Education in X country, obtain the statistics and you have an answer

for primary schools we have collated available information in our Worldwide survey Primary ELT, 1999-2000

If you want to know the contact details for a ministry of education, contact the British Council office in that country.

for older people, the problem again comes down to gathering the statistics; people will be a mixture of those who learn English by self access, those who study in state institutions, those who study in a private centre that is affiliated to a national body and those who study in a non affiliated private centre.
Can you help me with my MA research?
Normally, we would expect you to ask your supervisor for advice.
The British Council web portal, Search English, is a powerful tool for networking that allows you to set up and take part in discussions with ELT professionals from all over the world. You can form your own open or restricted access groups to discuss and share documents with others in your specific field or in preparation for international conferences. SearchEnglish also helps you to access one of the biggest ELT specific databases of free journals and news sites on the web. searchenglish.britishcouncil.org
Posting a message on ELTeCS (English Language Teaching Contacts Scheme) may also produce results. ELTeCS has over 10,000 members from all walks of ELT and some of these members could have information or advice relevant to your research area. For more information on ELTeCS, go to www.britishcouncil.org/english/eltecs/index.htm.
Can you send me some brochures/teaching materials about the UK?
www.visitbritain.com (VisitBritain)

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