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English Language Day

English Language Day is celebrated on 23 April. Read about where English came from, how it came to be spoken all over the world and how it is changing.

Do the preparation task first. Then read the article and do the exercises.

What is English Language Day?

English Language Day was first celebrated in 2010, alongside Arabic Language Day, Chinese Language Day, French Language Day, Russian Language Day and Spanish Language Day. These are the six official languages of the United Nations, and each has a special day, designed to raise awareness of the history, culture and achievements of these languages.

Why is English Language Day celebrated on 23 April?

This day was chosen because it is thought to be Shakespeare's birthday, and the anniversary of his death. As well as being the English language's most famous playwright, Shakespeare also had a huge impact on modern-day English. At the time he was writing, in the 16th and 17th centuries, the English language was going through a lot of changes and Shakespeare's creativity with language meant he contributed hundreds of new words and phrases that are still used today. For example, the words 'gossip', 'fashionable' and 'lonely' were all first used by Shakespeare. He also invented phrases like 'break the ice', 'all our yesterdays', 'faint-hearted' and 'love is blind'. Can you guess what they mean?

The origins of English

The story of the English language began in the fifth century when Germanic tribes invaded Celtic-speaking Britain and brought their languages with them. Later, Scandinavian Vikings invaded and settled with their languages too. In 1066 William I, from modern-day France, became king, and Norman-French became the language of the courts and official activity. People couldn’t understand each other at first, because the lower classes continued to use English while the upper classes spoke French, but gradually French began to influence English. An estimated 45 per cent of all English words have a French origin. By Shakespeare's time, Modern English had developed, printing had been invented and people had to start to agree on 'correct' spelling and vocabulary.

The spread of English

The spread of English all over the world has an ugly history but a rich and vibrant present. During the European colonial period, several European countries, including England, competed to expand their empires. They stole land, labour and resources from people across Africa, Asia, the Americas and Oceania. By the time former British colonies began to gain independence in the mid-20th century, English had become established in their institutions. Many brilliant writers from diverse places across Africa, the Caribbean and Asia had started writing in English, telling their stories of oppression. People from all over the world were using English to talk and write about justice, equality, freedom and identity from their own perspectives. The different varieties of English created through this history of migration and colonisation are known as World Englishes.

International English

More than 1.75 billion people speak English worldwide – that's around 1 in 4 people around the world. English is being used more and more as a way for two speakers with different first languages to communicate with each other, as a 'lingua franca'. For many people, the need to communicate is much more important than the need to sound like a native speaker. As a result, language use is starting to change. For example, speakers might not use 'a' or 'the' in front of nouns, or they might make uncountable nouns plural and say 'informations', 'furnitures' or 'co-operations'.

Are these variations mistakes? Or part of the natural evolution of different Englishes? 'International English' refers to the English that is used and developed by everyone in the world, and doesn't just belong to native speakers. There is a lot of debate about whether International English should be standardised and, if so, how. What do you think? If you're reading this, English is your language too.

Source

http://www.un.org/en/events/englishlanguageday/

Discussion

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Language level

Upper intermediate: B2

Comments

I try to speak English myself with the help of app about thirty minutes per day.It is enjoyable and interesting.I believe l can speak English fluently one day.

Hi,
Many thanks! I really enjoyed reading this article.
Could you please tell me where I can find the meaning of English phrases like those cited in this article. I know the meaning of 'break the ice' and 'love is blind', we us the same phrases in Arabic (it's interesting to find out their English roots). I found the meaning of 'faint-hearted' in Cambridge Dictionnary; but I still struggle to understand 'all our yesterdays'.

Hi Leila77,

I'm glad you enjoyed the article :)

All our yesterdays means our past. For example:

  • These films and TV shows were a part of all our yesterdays.

Some of Shakespeare's phrases have become very commonly used, such as the other phrases you mentioned. These have often been added to dictionaries too. But all our yesterdays isn't so commonly used, and might not be included in dictionaries. In that case, to find the meaning, the best way is probably to search for an example of somebody using it in real speech or writing - you can probably have a good guess at the meaning in the context of the whole speech or writing. Otherwise, you might need to check a source that specifically explains Shakespearean texts.

I hope that helps.

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi Jonathan,
I appreciate your help.
I hope one day I can read Shakespeare in English!

Hi Leila77,

No problem. Reading Shakespeare is challenging, but very interesting and enjoyable :)

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

I speak English with my classmates in the the course I'm tking right now. We all are learning, so it is a good chance to improve and knowing each other. English is my language too, as long as I'm practicing it, it'll be mine.

I speak English with myself, I chat with foreign people using tandem but I feel like I don't have the ability to hold a fluent conversation yet, now I just read and learn new vocabulary every day and I'm going to return listen to the podcasts. and about the text, I like the different accents of English when someone mixes British English with American I find the sound really nice, day by day English is spreading more and more

I usually don't speak English because I haven't this opportunity, but I try to learning this language practising it by books, magazines, internet.

Who do you speak English with?
I usually speak English in English classes.

I would like to download the audio, how can I do that...?

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