Here you can learn more about English as an international language, and how you might either study English or learn to teach it.
Watch our webcast for a quick introduction to the importance of English language and culture.
“The best feature was that we used English, which means that we worked hard on improving our speaking skills.”
“The work you do helps you to improve your level of English (grammar, spelling, structure). We also regularly got very useful feedback from the teacher.”
“We are taught some useful things in writing, speaking and listening. I also learnt some useful info on local life.”
The English language is a mix of many dialects and languages that have been evolving since the 5th century AD. This article is written in Modern Standard English, which has been around for about 500 years. Before this we can divide the history of our language into two other major periods; Middle and Old English.
Middle English was the version of English being spoken from 10th century to Chaucer’s time in the 15th century. Anyone who has tried to read Chaucer in the original version will know how tricky it is to understand. However Anglo-Saxon, or Old English, is even more removed from the present - try reading Beowulf, an epic poem which is thought to date from the 8th century!
Less than a quarter of modern standard vocabulary features words from the Old English period because of the effect of borrowings from other languages thanks to several invasions, occupations and waves of migration. The presence of Norse vocabulary comes from the Vikings and Norman French exerted a large influence subsequent to the Norman Invasion in 1066.
In fact, approximately a third of present day English vocabulary stems from Norman French, with another third being borrowings from Latin, Greek and other languages over the centuries. One of the reasons why Modern English spelling is so odd and unpredictable stems from the Middle Ages, when people used French spelling conventions to spell our language as it re-emerged from centuries of Norman rule. Another reason is that many borrowings from Latin and Greek entered the language with no adaptation.
Here are just a few examples of borrowings:
Norse = anger, bleak, blur, call, crook, die, dirt, dregs, egg, fellow, flat, flaunt, flaw, fleck, flimsy, gaze, happen, law, leg, nasty, nudge, odd, raise, root, scowl, seat, skin, skull, sky, sniff, take, they, ugly, want, weak, window.
Norman French = beauty, beef, brush, castle, choice, constraint, court, defeat, destroy, dinner, forest, frail, garden, govern, honest, hostel, interest, judge, loyal, marvel, mutton, paste, place, poison, pork, priest, push, quarter, royal, stuff, sure, ticket, trick.
Modified from Latin through French = addition, additive, candle, colo(u)r, colossal, consider, contemplate, decide, decision, erupt, eruption, general, generic, hono(u)r, hono(u)rable, honorary, illiteracy, illiterate, immoral, immortality, ingenious, ingenuity, literacy, literate, literature, meditate, meditation, meditative, memorable, memory, moment, momentary, momentous, moral, morality, nobility, noble, pendulous, peninsular, revise, revision, sex, similar, similarity, temple.
Unmodified from Latin = bacterium/bacteria, propaganda, fauna, flora.
Greek = analysis, cinema, crisis, diagnosis, phenomenon, rhinoceros, stigma.
Modern French = avant-garde, cafe/café, camouflage, chef, garage, morale, silhouette, souvenir.
Spanish = stampede.
For more information see Ask Oxford (Oxford English Dictionary)
In the 15th century the development of printing helped towards the emergence of a standardised form of English. Early Modern English was the language Shakespeare spoke and wrote, which is only moderately different from the English language we know and love today.
In the 17th century English-speaking colonies in North America became established. This was the start of English’s spread across the globe. However, because the American colonies were isolated from Britain by the Atlantic Ocean, the dialects in England and the colonies began to evolve independently. This caused different accents and further variation in spelling! By the 19th century, with the dominance of the British Empire, British English was brought to Africa, Asia and Oceania. The reason why English has remained a world language after the fall of the Empire is that since World War II, the United States continued to push the popularity of English through its economic and cultural influence as a super-power.
It was estimated that a billion people were learning English at the turn of the Millennium and that this number could double in a decade, (Graddol, 1997). So does this mean the future of English as a world language is ensured? We’ll have to wait and see!
For further information and conflicting opinions on the future of English as a global language, please refer to the links below:
For information about the different varieties of English and audio samples of different accents in the UK and worldwide, try these links:
English has aspects which make it easy to learn, but other characteristics which make it very difficult to master. To begin with the grammar is straightforward compared to other languages- although opinions about this may differ! The vocabulary has so many borrowings from languages of European origin that, for example, a French or German speaker already has a head start with familiar words. Even if the first language is non-European, the fact that English is so widely used means that a learner will have many opportunities to come into contact with it and absorb it, possibly without the need to attend formal lessons! The difficulty with English is deciding which variety to start learning and then getting to grips with all the exceptions to ‘rules’.
For one person’s experience of learning English, read this account at Learning English
The following poem highlights another problem which is that spoken English often does not relate to its written form;
When the English tongue we speak.
Why is break not rhymed with freak?
Will you tell me why it's true
We say sew but likewise few?
And the maker of the verse,
Cannot rhyme his horse with worse?
Beard is not the same as heard
Cord is different from word.
Cow is cow but low is low
Shoe is never rhymed with foe.
Think of hose, dose, and lose
And think of goose and yet with choose
Think of comb, tomb and bomb,
Doll and roll or home and some.
Since pay is rhymed with say
Why not paid with said I pray?
Think of blood, food and good.
Mould is not pronounced like could.
Wherefore done, but gone and lone -
Is there any reason known?
To sum up all, it seems to me
Sound and letters don't agree.
Lord Cromer, 1902
English is the main language of the UK, spoken by an estimated 95% of the population. However, the individual countries of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland also promote their own native languages alongside English. Although until recently spoken by the minority, the languages of Welsh (Wales), Scottish Gaelic (Scotland) and Irish (Northern Ireland) have grown in popularity in recent years.
As early as the 14th century, English literature started to spread and gain popularity, even though the language of English was also still in development at the time. Geoffrey Chaucer’s work such as the famous ‘Canterbury Tales’ was, and still remains, one of the most popular works emerging from this period. With the introduction of the printing press into England in the late 15th century, this fascination with literature blossomed as it became more accessible to the public. What followed was a surge of poetic and dramatic works from this period, including those by probably England’s most famous playwright- William Shakespeare. The centuries that followed produced a number of famous novelists such as Charles Dickens, the Bronte sisters, Thomas Hardy and poets such as William Wordsworth, John Keats and Robert Burns.
The tradition of theatre has had a firm place in UK culture since the 16th and 17th centuries thanks to prominent figures such as Shakespeare. During this time interest in the theatre grew as performances were based on topical issues of the time and so it was attended by a mix of audiences from a wide range of social classes. It was during this period that the first professional actresses were born because in Shakespeare’s time, all female roles were played by men! Today, London still remains the heart of theatre and 20th century composers such as Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber have enjoyed great success with musicals which have found international success.
London is one of the world's major centres for classical music and the UK supports a number of world famous orchestras including the BBC Symphony Orchestra, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. The Proms is, arguably, one of the most popular classical music events. An eight-week summer season of daily orchestral classical music concerts is held across the United Kingdom and The Last Night of the Proms celebrates British tradition with patriotic music of the United Kingdom.
Rock and pop music, in particular, are at the centre of the UK music scene and have produced internationally popular bands such as The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, The Who, Pink Floyd, Queen, Elton John, David Bowie, Iron Maiden, Status Quo, The Smiths, Sex Pistols, The Clash, Duran Duran, Muse, Placebo, The Cure, Depeche Mode, The Stone Roses, Oasis, Blur and Radiohead. It has provided inspiration for many modern bands today, including Coldplay, Kaiser Chiefs, Bloc Party, Snow Patrol, Editors and Arctic Monkeys. Since then it has also pioneered various forms of electronic dance music including acid house, drum and bass and trip hop, all of which were in whole or part developed in the United Kingdom. Acclaimed British dance acts include Underworld, Orbital, Massive Attack, The KLF, The Prodigy, Basement Jaxx, The Chemical Brothers, Groove Armada, Aphex Twin and Portishead.
The architecture of the United Kingdom has a long and diverse history from beyond Stonehenge to the designs of Norman Foster’s ‘Gherkin’ in the present day. In the United Kingdom, a listed building is a building or other structure officially designated as being of special architectural, historical or cultural significance. About half a million buildings in the UK have "listed" status. The UK is particularly renowned for its palaces and many castles. Organisations such as ‘English Heritage’ work hard to preserve the UK’s many historical structures which continue to be popular with both UK and overseas visitors.
Visit World English, a website displaying a huge list of links to various international sites about everything English, from assessment tools, (useless!) facts, proverbs and sayings, common phrases and other vocabulary items (such as homonyms), testing your knowledge of English grammar and other resources.
Project Britain website contains fascinating facts and information about England, Scotland and Wales (Britain), in a way that is easy to read and to understand for people of all ages and cultures.
There are some extremely useful pages dedicated to the promotion of English, whether you want more information on how to encourage people to learn the language or if you want to teach it. The Higher Education Academy also displays a page on Student Employability Profiles.
Watching television online is an excellent way of practising a language. Below are links to outstanding TV channels:
English-speaking Internet TV is also available through the iTV portal where you can search for a channel either by country or topic area, or with Multilingual Books. (Caution: the channels on these two sites are not accessible to all as they are dependent on your computer configuration, your Internet browser and the type of multimedia software you use).
There are also a huge number of internet radio stations (available among other things through the ListenLive website).