Posted by: lyonenglishnetwork | July 8, 2010

Why should English be the international language ?

I was asked the other day by one of my students why English should be the international language.

The only reason I could think of is that there is no reason, English is not better than let’s say, French.

But there is a reason why one international language of communication would be a positive thing: better, more effective communication.

(That is not to say, of course, that other languages such as French, German, Spanish and other languages should disappear – it is quite possible for languages to co-exist). The French should be able to speak good French and good English at the same time. Crikey, the Norwegians seem to be able to do it, but there is somehow in this country – I live in France – a fear that perhaps good English is spoken, there will no longer be any need for French.

And that brings us back to the point I made above: English is no better than French, but French is no better than English, whichever language you use, I believe you will be able to communicate effectively. Changing the language doesn’t change anything about how the world is, for example. Nothing changes, whichever language you are using. One is not better than the other.

So when will this fear of speaking English correctly go away ? When will these inhibitions of using English in the English (or indeed American, Australian way) be put aside and people accept the language the way it is.

There you go… my thoughts for today.

Why should English be the international language ? why not ?




  1. Ok, here I come with my pontificating comments.
    Actually English is more adapted than many other languages including French. Why? Every time a language adapts to become a new language it naturally gets simpler.
    Therefore, Greek changes to Latin and simplifies, Latin to French and French to English. So it IS easier to learn the basics of English (no gender (what for?), simplified conjugation, adaptable spelling…). This does not mean English is such an easy language to master altogether but it does make the basics easier to learn. And remembering the long hours I spent learning that terrible Bescherelle the French have to learn their conjugation, I consider my students quite lucky to only have a few irregular verbs to learn!

    • Hey Noreen, just a quick question. When did French “change” into English? As much as I agree with the concept that English is easier than French to learn, I’m not quite sure it’s that simple. If you take Creoles for instance, they are created from different languages and invented words by the community that created the said language to communicate without being understood by their owners. There’s a process of transformation, yet, they are rather difficult to learn and understand and certainly not simple as they are built randomly. But they’re still considered languages.

      The problem of learning a language has more to do – that’s my theory anyways – with the lack of cultural understanding. You cannot separate language from its culture. The French Éducation National has methodology and epistemology problems. They base their teaching on memorising instead of experiencing. You cannot memorise a language. You might be able to memorise a few things, but it doesn’t work when it comes to structure. And as my colleague Connie once pointed out to her students, English is soooo flexible, you just have to “get it”. And to “get it” you need the culture that comes with it. So when French students try to learn English, they have to learn a new way to learn as well and that’s not easy. I always try to avoid translations into French when I teach. I just want my students to think in English with the limited basics they have, and then we build on that.

      Anyways, maybe we should forget English and start promoting Esperanto. I just don’t believe that Globish is worth investing in (thks Paul…) and in a few years, we’ll all need to learn Mandarin. So what’s the point?

      • Hi Eric!

        You are actually quite right about the “changing” point. But I was trying to make it simple. The word “changing” is not exactly the correct word. Maybe I should have said, “Evolving”. And English is in a way the evolving of many languages (German, Latin and native languages…) but mainly of French. As for your example, it is very good but in order to compare two situations you have to take two similar situations and the problem with Créole is that the written part of the language is very recent. What your friend Connie says is very true, English is very flexible and this does come from how it was built. No Académie Anglaise to stop the language from evolving; and English IS constantly evolving.

        Where I totally agree with you is concerning the French ways of learning English or any other language. I remember applying for a job in a French school and being told I did not have the proper diplomas. Therefore, I answered very confidently that I DID speak English, which would seem like quite an advantage compared to French students. And this little pretentious man looked at me in the eye and with a little smile on his face just answered that Speaking English was just a skill!!!!!!!!!Never got over that one.

      • hey Eric,

        maybe you’re right and maybe Globish is not worth investing in. Actually, I think the concept that Mr. Jean Paul Sartre or whoever he is that started Globish is not worth investing in.

        But the point of this discussion in the first place was that it could improve communication when people speak a common second language better. That language could be Spanish, I know in one of the companies I’m working in one of the technicians went to Mexico and communicated in mainly Spanish and a bit of English. So in some ways I don’t think it matters whether we speak a common language.

        On the other hand, I think if Mr. Sarkozy was better at speaking to Mr. Obama perhaps there would be a better chance of resolving global issues more effectively. So I could see benefits of people speaking a common language better.


  2. Thanks for that, Noreen… you’ve just upgraded my knowledge on the subject.


    • I completely agree with Noreen on the fact that English is easier (to learn) than French, no matter how hard it is for me to convince my students that it is so!!
      In fact the reality is that English is quite simple – for the various reasons given by Noreen and probably many other – and quite an adaptable language but very different from the French in terms of tenses use for example.

      But anyway, what I think is actually the essential reason why English has become the language of international communication has to be looked for in History more than in Grammar or Linguistics…
      Do I need to remind you that French used to be THE language of international communication…? But the (not only) economical supremacy of the US changed this trend a lot time ago…

    • Oh sorry about that Paul! I did feel I was sort of showing off a bit there. But to be very honest with you it is a subject that fascinates me.

  3. no, no, I was being serious!… I really didn’t know about the Greek/Latin/French/English thing.

    Thanks for commenting!


  4. It’s true that a second language would be an improvement for international politic, economy and general well-being of humanity. On the other hand, it raises so many questions I wouldn’t know where to begin. Where I come from, a part of the population is fighting to preserve their French heritage in an ocean of anglos. They say that the French culture and language are at risk and call English the imperialist enemy. In a way, they are right: 7 million francos lost in 330M anglos is dangerous. I can hear Star Trek voices… “Resistance is futile. You will be assimilated.”

    But in a way, isn’t English even more at risk? As Noreen pointed out, English is constantly evolving because the whole planet is giving its input to modify it and constantly adding to it (did you ever hear of the verb “to ideate”? or the HR concept of “on-boarding”?). By doing so, are we allowing English to be completely destroyed or are we helping it evolve so it can perform better as a communication tool?

    My answer is – pardon my French – I have no fucking idea. I love English and everything it can do and sometimes wish it to never change. But words are extremely powerful. Without the power of words WWII would not have happened. So if English can rule as the main international language, why not? Maybe one day we’ll have peace on Earth.

    Do I get to be Miss America now?

  5. You can’t be Miss America but you are right. There are advantages and disadvantages to both, cultural and linguistic diversity are a crucial, it just gets on my nerves at the same time there is so much protectionism in terms of language it makes my job harder.

  6. An old debate: Whether culture influences language or language influences culture. Yes this debate may be considered as ‘intellectual masturbation’ ( but for language teaching I believe it holds relevance. It’s in exploring the semantics. A ‘table’, as a lexical item, will have different signification to a French person than an English person (greatly generalizing of course), not to mention a surgeon, priest or statistician. Such differences should be explored. If such a simple example shows varying cross-cultural concepts, how about more complex concepts: Liberty, Egality, Fraternity, for example. Or do we suppose that global language homogenization leads to global cultural concept homogenization, which is a good thing. I say no. Nevertheless, despite ‘supporting’ the survival of dying languages, I also appreciate underlying historical and geo-political events. Why English and not French became a leading global language is to be found in the history books more than the grammar books.

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