How many speakers of English?

Sven   Mon Aug 20, 2007 11:02 am GMT
I think this question is very difficult. I saw in different lists, different figures:

350 million of speakers

500 million of speakers

1 billion of speakers

So, which are the most accurate figures?
Ornella   Mon Aug 20, 2007 4:16 pm GMT
350 million of speakers as mother tongue

500 million of speakers as first and second language, perfect command of the language.

1 billion of speakers, including all students with different knowledge of the language.

All the figures are right.
Jimmy   Mon Aug 20, 2007 6:25 pm GMT

All these figures are right depending on the people you want to include. So, several international languages (English, Spanish and French, above all) can vary a lot if you include the last group or not.
Vytenis   Tue Aug 21, 2007 8:38 am GMT
The easiest to count are the native speakers. You just have to look at the number of national censuses of English-speaking countries. USA has roughly 250 million people who speak English as a mother tongue (most of others are Hispanics, Asians and other immingrants some of whom may be near-native English speakers). Britain may have about 50 - 55 million native English speakers. Canada and Australia each about 20 million. Then Ireland, new zealand and South Afrca each about 3 million. Then I guess there are a few millions of anglophone (mainly American and British) expatriates living all over the world. So all in all we have no less than 350 million NATIVE SPEAKERS of English.

As to how many people speak English as a SECOND language that is really a good question. For one, nobody can be sure what constitutes "knowledge of English". Does having studied it at school count? In my country, for example, many people have studied English at schools and they do have some knowledge of it, but only a minorty could actually speak English. according to the latest census figures only about 20 percent claim to be able to speak English. Nobody checked or tested their ability, mind ;) I think this is true of many other countries as well - only a minority of those who studied English at school can actually be fluent in it... Therefore, I think if you want to find the number of non-native speakers of English, you have to research all the census figures of all the countries in the world and see if they all provide the numbes of the English knowledge of their population (which I don't think every country does) and then add them up. That's a difficult task...
Vytenis   Tue Aug 21, 2007 8:51 am GMT
As an afterthought: why on earth would it be so important how many people in the world speak English as a second language? Isn't it enough to know that it IS the most important second language in virtually all countries of the world and most educated people in the free world speak it to varying degrees of fluency. Former Communist world is the exception though, it may take longer time for it to get rid of all the Communist legacy...