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Fewer English Speakers in the Future

While it seems as if more and more people, around the world, are now speaking English, a British language expert thinks that will change in the future. David Graddol says the number of people who speak English as a native language is falling, and the idea that English will become the world's main language "is past its sell-by date."

More and more people speak more than one language, even in the U.S., where people often have trouble learning a second language. But immigration is changing this. Last year the Census Bureau reported that almost one in five Americans speak another language than English at home. Spanish is the most common second language, followed by Chinese.

Linguist Stephen Anderson says speaking more than one language is "more or less the natural state. In most of the world multilingualism is the normal condition of people."

In 1995, English was the second most common native tongue in the world, with Chinese the most commonly spoken. Graddol says that by 2050, Chinese will continue in first place, but Hindi-Urdu of India and Arabic will overtake English, and Spanish will be spoken nearly as much as English.

However, English will continue to be a popular second language. Linguist K. David Harrison says, "The global share of English is much larger if you count second-language speakers, and will continue to rise, even as the proportion of native speakers declines." He says the only reason Arabic isn't at the top of the list is "because varieties of Arabic spoken in say, Egypt and Morocco are mutually incomprehensible." Chinese speakers have the same problem.

Researcher Scott Montgomery thinks the rejection of English comes from a rejection of American power. He says, "There is a distinct consciousness in many countries, both developed and developing, about this dominance of English. There is some evidence of resistance to it, a desire to change it."

80-90% of scientific papers are written in English, and many English scientific terms have no equivalents in other languages, making it a necessary language for scientists to learn. However, Graddol says, "In the next decade the new ?must learn? language is likely to be Mandarin."

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