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Is English a Foreign Language?

1852 Is English a foreign language

In today’s world, English is no more a foreign language. Very few countries can claim that they have never even heard about it. English, in the 21st century, is recognised as a universal language or global, ‘lingua franca’. In every country, there is a particular population of people who can interact in English. Anywhere you go- airports, railway stations, government offices and institutions or any road, you see the names of those places, public notices and instructions mentioned either in English or in the local language of that place. Text written in two or more languages assists the tourist as well who are visiting these places. Every country wishes to expand its tourism potential, and for that to happen successfully, introducing English in the social environment is but a logical and necessary step.

Today, more than 400 million people all across the globe have English as their mother tongue or second language. We mostly use this language for international communication. It is also a standard that media, as well as the internet, uses. Out of 195 countries in the world, 50 of them have English as their native or official language of instruction like India and Singapore.

English Language

The English language originates from the Angles, a tribe that migrated to the mainland of Britain, which is now the European country, England. The English language first developed from Old English, which used to be a West Germanic language. It was used for interaction in early medieval England and later evolved to be the ‘bridge language’ or the most commonly spoken language of the world.

English is the second most commonly spoken language in the world after Chinese (Mandarin), with almost 983 million speakers around the globe. Chinese has around 1.1 billion speakers, most being natives of China. English has native speakers as well as those speakers who adopted English as their first or second language. The latter group constitutes almost 30 to 40 per cent of the total speaking number. English is also the primary language used in international communication.

English as a First Language

English as a first language or arterial language refers to those countries whose native language is English- where people who speak, read, write, or instruct in English as a first language.

The United States of America is the largest, and #1 ranked country in the world with over 225 million speakers of the English language. Most of the South American countries have English as their native language too, and it is widely spoken and used as means of communication and instruction in those countries. Their primary means of communication happens to be the English language.

English is the first language in the UK, Ireland and many European countries like the Netherlands. Even Australia and New Zealand have a high number of English speaking citizens.

English as a Second Language

English is a second language in those countries where the native language is quite different from English. Such countries have adopted English to be their official language. They use it as the primary medium of instruction in the country. In other words, English, as a second language, refers to the ones who speak English as a second language which is different from their mother tongue.

India is the second most English speaking country with around 125 million English speakers. Pakistan, Singapore, and the Philippines are other such examples of Southeast Asian nations whose official language is English.

The South American countries, including Guyana, Jamaica; and Central African or Caribbean countries -The Bahamas, Belize, Barbados, and Botswana, use English as their official language.

Is English a Foreign Language in India?

In India, where literacy rate is not so high, yet English is not a foreign language, and a large percentage of people have at least basic English knowledge, even in the remotest areas.

This spread of English language knowledge is due to the fact the British era has influenced our own culture in India. Indians may not always pronounce English words like native English speakers, traces of English words in almost all the Indian languages, including the ones in the rural areas, are widely used.

India’s education system itself includes the state language as the first language and English as the second language. So basic knowledge of English alphabets and numbers is present even in the most illiterate citizens. Except for the tribals, of course.


Learning English is very important in today’s world. Only if you live in countries such as Japan or Korea, there is almost no need to learn this additional language to earn a living within the boundaries of the country.

However, for those who live in countries like such as India and Singapore, and plan to further move to other English speaking countries for job opportunities, business endeavours or other career opportunities, knowing English is a must. Today, if one wishes to be global, then they cannot afford to exist in a cocoon. They have to know the English language for sure, to be able to travel and interact freely with the majority of the population of the world. This facilitates international brotherhood and co-operation as well, apart from encouraging and promoting an interest in international trade due to ease of communication. With such a multitude of benefits, we can say that English is not a foreign language for anyone; instead, it is a global language for all.

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