World Englishes

You’ll find a small quiz after this section, so please read the following carefully.

English as a global language

As you may know, English has been used very widely as an international language. Here are some statistics to show the widespread use of English.

  • Around 25% of the books published worldwide every year are in English.
  • 56% of the 10 million most visited Internet web sites are English.
  • On Twitter, 34% of tweets posted daily are in English (followed by 16% in Japanese and 12% in Spanish).

Who are the English speakers?

As you can see above, English has been used quite widely all over the world. So we can say that English has become a truly global language. So who exactly is speaking English? Are most of them native speakers?

The following table shows the top 10 languages in the world in terms of the number of native speakers.

Rank Language Number of speakers (in million)
1 Chinese 885
2 English 400
3 Spanish 332
4 Hindi 236
5 Arabic 200
6 Portuguese 175
7 Russian 170
8 Bengali 168
9 Japanese 125
10 German 100

(Adapted from

As you can see, English is only ranked second in terms of the number of native speakers. The Chinese language has actually more than twice native speakers than the English language. It is estimated that there are about 400 million native English speakers worldwide. The word population is around 7.5 billion, so this means that native English speakers account for only 5% of the world population.

But if we look at the number of people who speak English as an official language, it shows a very different picture. The following table shows the top 10 languages in the world in terms of the number of people who speak it as their official language.

Rank Language Number of speakers (in million)
1 English 1,400 (= 1.4 billion)
2 Chinese 1,000 (= 1 billion)
3 Hindi 700
4 Spanish 280
5 Russian 270
6 French 220
7 Arabic 170
8 Portuguese 160
9 Malay 160
10 Bengali 160

(Adapted from 平賀雅子『ベーシック新しい英語学概論』第1章)

As you can see, English is ranked number 1. This means that although English is number 2 in terms of the number of native speakers, English has a lot of people who speak it as an official language.

Native vs. non-native speakers

The above discussion suggests that there are more non-native speakers of English, compared with native speakers. Braj Kachru, a famous linguist (you’ll probably hear his name in a number of linguistics lectures here at CIC), divided English speaking countries into the following three categories: inner circles, outer circles, and expanding circles.

1. Inner circles
In inner circles, English is used as their first language. Countries such as the US, UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand are included in the inner circles.
2. Outer circles
In outer circles, English is used as the official language. Countries such as Singapore, India, Pakistan, Kenya, and Ghana belong here. Countries in this category are former colonies of the UK or US.
3. Expanding circles
In expanding circles, English is not widely used in society, but studied as a foreign language. Countries such as Japan, China, Korea, Russia, and German are in this category.

The following figure shows the number of speakers in each circle:

As you can perhaps imagine from the above figure, there are more non-native speakers of English. According to one estimate, 75% of English users are actually non-native speakers.


As we have seen, the majority of English speakers are non-native speakers, and native speakers are, in fact, the minority.

Why did I talk about this? Well, although the language of instruction is English in this class, CIC is not a language department, and this is not a language course either. Hence, your homework, presentations, and papers etc. will be graded primarily on content, not language.

Also, it’s okay to make mistakes. You don’t have to speak or write like a native speaker because 75% of English users are non-native speakers. Having good grammar or vocabulary is great, but willingness to communicate and speak out, even with the wrong vocabulary, not perfect grammar, and not perfect pronunciation, is also very important for successful communication.

Review Quiz

Now, I’d like to invite you to take a short quiz about the contents covered in this document. You may review this document while you take the quiz. The results of this quiz will count toward your grades, so please review your answers carefully before submitting your answers.

Please log in to Google Classroom and take the quiz (World Englishes: Quiz).