English as a lingua franca CultureWorld EnglishEnglish is the most widely spoken language in the world. It is the first language, or mother tongue, of over 300 million people living in countries such as Britain, Ireland, the US, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and South Africa, and it is spoken as a second language by many millions in countries where English is an official language. English is learned by many more people worldwide as a foreign language. English has many regional varieties such as South African English and Indian English and has also developed as a global language or international language, used as a lingua franca (shared language), sometimes called ELF (= English as a Lingua Franca) between people for whom it is not a first language. It is estimated that now only one out of every four users of the language is a native speaker of English.English has achieved the status of a world language over a long period of time, and for various historical and cultural reasons. In the 17th century English was spread by settlers going from Britain to America, and in the 18th and 19th centuries by the expansion (= growth) of the British Empire. Many countries which were part of the empire kept English as their official language after independence because there were several local languages. As an official language, English is generally used in government, public administration and the law, and children may be taught in English. Since the middle of the 20th century, English has been an official language of international organizations such as the United Nations.Economic factors are also important. Britain and the US are both major business and financial centres, and many multinational corporations (= companies that operate in several countries) started in these countries. Elsewhere, a knowledge of English is often seen as necessary for success in business, and in countries which have many tourists.Advances in technology and telecommunications have also helped to establish English as a global language. Many inventions important to modern life, e.g. electricity, radio and the telephone, were developed in Britain or the US. English became the language for international communications in air traffic control and shipping. Now, major computer systems and software developers are based in the US, and English is one of the main languages used on the Internet.Britain and the US have invested in the development of English Language Teaching (ELT). The British Council has offices across the world which promote British culture and support the teaching of English. The United States also has libraries and cultural programmes in many countries. The English language broadcasts of the BBC World Service, Voice of America and other services are widely popular, and many people listen to the news broadcasts in order to get news about events in their own country. The BBC and Voice of America also broadcast programmes for learners of English.As an international language, English continues to develop. People who speak English as a first or second language have their own variety of the language, each of which is changing independently of other varieties. There are many differences, for instance, between British English and American English, and between Australian, South African, Indian, African and Jamaican English, though all can be understood, more or less, by speakers of other varieties. Foreign learners of English learn one of the major varieties, usually British or American English, or some sort of international English. As a global language, English can no longer be thought of as belonging only to British or American people, or to anyone else. This loss of ownership is often uncomfortable, especially in Britain. As the number of people using English as a second or foreign language is increasing faster than the number who speak it as a first language, further drifts away from a British or American standard are likely.The status of English as a global language has unfortunately tended to mean that British and American people assume everyone speaks English, so they do not need to learn foreign languages. The numbers of students who study foreign languages have decreased.