The Global Future of English

A primary school in Tanzania
Photo by Book Aid International via Flickr

Liz Waid and Colin Lowther look at how English has changed the past. But it continues to also change the future of other languages.

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Voice 1 

Welcome to Spotlight. I’m Liz Waid.

Voice 2 

And I’m Colin Lowther. Spotlight uses a special English method of broadcasting. It is easier for people to understand, no matter where in the world they live.

Voice 3 

“We are a group of friends from Matemwe Village, Zanzibar.
We are in Form Three.
Next year we will sit our final tests... in English.
We will probably all fail.”

Voice 1 

These words are written in white chalk on a school blackboard. They are the beginning of a short film called Present Tense. It was made by a group of secondary school students in Zanzibar, Tanzania. It shows the problem of using English as a main language in schools. Children in primary school in Zanzibar learn in Swahili. This is a common Eastern African language. And most of the students speak another language at home. But secondary school is taught in English. This causes many problems. One problem is that children do not learn English very well. So they cannot succeed in secondary school. And this limits the jobs they can get in the future. Yakubu Fimbo Suleiman is one of the students who made the film. In his film, he said:

Voice 3 

“And this is our problem. The teacher must speak English, but for students we do not understand. Even if the classes are taught in English - how can I learn if I do not know English?”

Voice 2 

Why do schools around the world use English in secondary school? This is a complex issue. Today’s Spotlight is on English as a global language.

Voice 1 

Almost 850 million people speak English as their first language. And over 500 million people speak English as a second language. English is the most popular foreign language to learn. It is the language that many people use for doing international business. It is also a common language for education. But English as global language has a long and complex history.

Voice 2 

The English language is native to Great Britain in Northern Europe. English spread around the world starting from the late 16th century. At this time, people from Britain travelled around the world. They began colonies in many countries. They made these places part of the British Empire. Part of the British Empire’s control over other countries was through language. They made English the official language of many countries around the world. Other nations, such as France and Spain, also colonised foreign countries in a similar way.

Voice 1 

Today, most of the countries that were colonised are now independent nations. But many of them still use colonial languages such as French and English as their main language. Today, English is an official language in 65 countries around the world. Children learn it in school. Businesses and governments use it. But in most places it is not an indigenous, local language. It is a language that is connected to colonisation.

Voice 2 

Colonisation had many harmful effects on countries around the world. It was a system that often treated local people as if they were not as good. Today, some people think that using English now sends the same message. They think that using English can make people think that their own native language is not as good. Kwame Anthony Appiah is a Ghanaian-British writer. In an essay about language, he writes:

Voice 4 

“Colonial education created a generation surrounded by the literature of the colonizers. True African independence needs a literature of one’s own.”

Voice 1 

However, many people around the world also enjoy and love the English language. Some people say that the language can be enjoyed by anyone around the world. Derek Walcott is a famous poet from the Caribbean. He told the Guardian newspaper about his English education on Saint Lucia:

Voice 5 

"I had a very good English education. We treated the English texts as if they belonged to us, because English is our native language. It is the English language which is the empire. Great poets are not its servants but its princes."

Voice 2 

Walcott, like many other people, think that both English and local languages are important. But balancing the two can be difficult. English is important in modern life. The world is becoming more and more globalized. People travel more. They communicate using the internet. And English has an important place in this communication. It is a way for people from different nations to be able to talk together. It helps them to do business together. It helps them form common understanding – even when people come from different cultures and countries.

Voice 1 

Many people think that English will continue to be important for the world in the future. Yet they do not want it to replace local culture or language. It is also very important for people to value the traditions of their own cultures. This includes speaking native languages. It is important to keep the knowledge and practice of local languages. These show the value of many different cultures around the world.

Voice 2 

But people around the world also want to be part of global culture. In many places, learning English is necessary for getting a good job. In Zanzibar, tourism is becoming a major industry. Many foreign people visit Zanzibar for a holiday. And many of these tourists speak English. Knowing English can help local people get good jobs in places like hotels. Good English is also necessary for other kinds of work, like becoming a doctor or a teacher. Yakubu Fimbo Suleiman says:

Voice 3 

“If I do not learn English I will be a fisherman. And my village will never change. I need to learn English. I need to learn to get a job. But when will the system of education change so that I can be able to learn other subjects like history, geography, and science? I will change. I want change.”

Voice 1 

In Zanzibar, the school system answered this call for change. They changed the language used in their education system. Now, children in secondary school learn in Swahili – not English. They can still learn English as a foreign language. But they are not required to know it for all subjects. In Zanzibar, this change may help students do better in school. And then they can do more to help their communities.

Voice 2 

How do you think the English language can be used for positive change? Do you think there is a way to use both English and other local languages? You can leave a comment on our website. Or email us at And find us on Facebook - just search for Spotlight Radio.

Voice 1 

The writer of this program was Rena Dam. The producer was Michio Ozaki. The voices you heard were from the United Kingdom and the United States. All quotes were adapted for this program and voiced by Spotlight. You can listen to this program again, and read it, on the internet at This program is called, ‘The Global Future of English’.

Voice 2 

We hope you can join us again for the next Spotlight program. Goodbye.


Are you required to learn English in school? Do you think this is a good thing or a bad thing?


Avatar Spotlight
said on February 08, 2016

I am happy to lean English, with spotlight for me subjects are important too. Thanks

Luis Piedra's avatar
Luis Piedra
said on February 08, 2016

Are you required to learn English in school?
I think the English language is good because it opens borders
Do you think this is a good thing or a bad thing?
All that is made with faith and dedication is good.

Edwing's avatar
said on February 08, 2016

In the Colombian schools we required to learn English.For me is a good thing because it brings personal development, a modern knowledge about the global world where we live. English is necessary and local language too!!!

Avatar Spotlight
Carla Arana
said on February 08, 2016

Learning English is so important because when somebody learns a different language that person might get better opportunities in his/her professional life.

Avatar Spotlight
Kim Kim
said on January 02, 2017

For me, English is very important. It’s help me to find a good job. It’s help me to get a high salary. And English helped me to communicate with foreigner. I can understand their culture. I have met many people around the world. We talked together by English. I had more friends. I think English is necessary for everyone, It’s a required. Because now English is global language. We need it to do bussiness, talk together,  travel, to learn new things in the world. But i think shouldn’t use English as a main language to teach for countries where they don’t speak English. They’re going to learn English as a second language.

Avatar Spotlight
said on January 02, 2017

I love English. It gives me the change to learn in the better environment. In my country, English is not required for students as the secons language, but we still have to learn it at school to graduate. But I see that lots of adults can’t use English in their lives. I think if any country want to educate English, it has to have a passion on it and have a good method to teach students.

Avatar Spotlight
Toan Ngo
said on January 02, 2017

In the modern world, I think each people should know at least 2 languages. The languages are not only helping for communicating but also open your mind and knowledge.

Avatar Spotlight
said on January 24, 2017

Nowadays, English is becoming more and more popular around the world, it’s using represents a convenient way how people can communicate together on the Internet. English is a language of businessmen just as governments, moreover speaking English can help people get better, higher education or a profitable job as well.
No doubt, English language can bring in particular positive changes to human population yet I suppose learning local languages in schools shouldn’t be neglected in any case because children of all nations should get a possibility to know, recognize the value and traditions of their own cultures including understanding the local languages too.
In my opinion, the high importance of using English in many different spheres of human life in future appears as indisputable absolutely!
Thanks Spotlight team for another interesting topic!

Severino Ramos da Silva's avatar
Severino Ramos da Silva
said on February 27, 2017

From: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) (Severino Ramos)
To: spotlight programme
Subject: answer to the questions above
Date: Monday 27, February 2017
São Paulo SP Brazil

Dear Liz Waid, Rena Dam, Colin Lowther, and Michio Ozaki:

At first, I want to thank you for bringing us readers and learners of English more one great article, thanks!
Yes, I am. When I was at the elementary school and secondary school my dear teacher taught basic English for us students. So, those lessons were very useful to me.
Yes, I do. This is a good thing becuse now I study English alone at home with my computer. Also, I have read the article from spotlight programme where I follow them to learn English and how to speak it better. Thank you spotlight.

God bless you
Severino Ramos
São Paulo SP Brazil

Avatar Spotlight
said on March 24, 2018

I think English very important for everyone and every countries, because today the english very common. And for the future if you don’t have english maybe you backward with the another person or countries. We needs at least two languages local language and english

Thanks for your follow

Avatar Spotlight
said on March 25, 2018

Nowadays learning English is very important because it is the most spoken international language world wide.i have been learning English since a few months back . don’t forget that English is a universal passport you can travel wherever you want and you won’t face more difficulty if you know I recommend you guys to learn English and enjoy the world of English.

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Vuong Huu Dinh
said on March 26, 2018

English is an important language, it helps most people all the world understant each other.

In the modern life, the English is a way that connect and exchange in the business and the works.

With its important so we need to learn English and need to improve it everyday.

Mumi84's avatar
said on March 28, 2018

Hello everyone
My name is Daimi, I am from Cuba. I love this website because I can improve my english skills and I can underestand almost the 85% of the text.
But I have a problem, a big problem. I study english alone on my computer, but I dont have to practice with. I can read and listen more than speak, but I don’t know how can I speak english better, I don’t know and I am a little sad.
Please, I need some tips to improve my speak english. I live alone and I don’t have time to go with an teacher.
Can I learn alone??? I dedicate 2 hour every day to study english.
Thank you very much

KatyBlake's avatar
said on April 09, 2018

Hi Daimi. It’s great that you can understand 85% of the text. You are doing well to practice for 2 hours every day. You will soon improve. Other learners tell us that they find our videos very helpful. The videos have a moving script. This makes it easier for you to read out loud with us. Listeners tell us that doing this helps improve their confidence in speaking English. You can find the videos on our programme pages. And you can find more videos on our YouTube channel (  You can also find videos about idioms, the differences between UK and US English etc. You can subscribe to this channel at no cost. You can also join our Facebook community and interact with other learners. There is extra useful content there every day. Just look for ‘Spotlight Radio’ on Facebook. Katy Blake for Spotlight