English is spoken and used by 1.3 billion across the world. The dominance of the language has brought native speakers many advantages. Nearly two-thirds of the world’s top companies are from Anglophone countries and English is worth an extra £14.5 billion to the UK economy. It is the language of science, of international relations and of influence. Tourists and business people can travel from native English-speaking countries and be confident that, wherever they go, someone will speak English.
But what is often ignored is that the use of English as a global lingua franca is signalling change. Non-native English speakers outnumber native speakers by three to one. Multilingualism has become a vital skill and the benefits of speaking English are increasingly scant consolation for a largely monolingual UK. Behind these changes lies a story of the shifts of global power. English was the language of the British Empire, and more recently of the capitalist power of the US. Today, it dominates the internet.
English has come to reflect the changing powers of globalisation; it is used in different ways, by different people, for different purposes. Where the UK once directed the spread of English, we are now just one of many shareholders in the asset that it represents. Opportunity and influence remain tied to English, but As You Like It argues that native speakers are at risk of being left behind.
The UK has not done enough to respond to these changes. Policy is needed across a wide range of government departments that understands and responds to this changing context. As You Like It sets forth the considerations that must shape this.