April 23rd is recognized by the UN as English Language Day chosen, as it happens to be both the birth date and death date of the great Bard himself William Shakespeare. According to the UN official website, „Language Days at the UN aim to entertain as well as inform, with the goal of increasing awareness and respect for the history, culture and achievements of each language.” At British Council we used the day to have a livestream discussion with Vlogger and English Philologist Arlena Witt on the evening of the 23rd. We discussed a variety of interesting issues concerning the English language and its long relationship with the Polish people. You can watch it at: https://www.facebook.com/BritishCouncilPolska/videos/10155783711789753/
So to get us in the mood here are 10 Fun Facts that you might not have known about the English language.
1. Number of Speakers
English has approximately 400 million native speakers, but perhaps as many as 1 billion people have learned it as a second and foreign language. It is difficult to know for sure but also there are difficulties associated with deciding at which level someone qualifies as a ‚speaker’ of English officially. Regardless that is around 1.5 BILLION people who have some working knowledge of English!
2. World Language
English is an official language to 67 countries right around the world as well as 27 ‚non-sovereign’ entities. Is it any wonder it is the lingua franca of the world? The most populous English speaking country is the US with an estimated 230 million native speakers. The UK is next with 60 million speakers. Canada is third. Even though it is an officially bilingual country there is thought to be around 20 million native speakers of English. Other large countries include the Republic of Ireland, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. These 4 countries have around 30 million native speakers of English combined.
3. Thanks William Shakespeare!
It has been estimated that William Shakespeare is responsible for many new additions to English not only in the form of familiar expressions but also words that had not existed earlier. He often did this by verbalising nouns, changing verbs into adjectives and creating compounds that nobody had heard of such as birthplace, bloodstained. Here is a comprehensive list of words owed to Shakespeare: http://shakespeare-online.com/biography/wordsinvented.htm
4. Letter ‚E”
If you take any large corpus of English text, 11% of it will be the letter ‚E’. It is by far the most commonly used letter from the English alphabet!
5. What a sentence!
The sentence „The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.” is a very special sentence in English called a pangram. Do you know why? It is a sentence which contains every letter of the English alphabet.
6. Not a Rap God?
If you are standing at a bus stop and bored and need something to do, try to think of words that rhyme with ‚orange’, ‚silver’ and ‚purple’. Supposedly nothing rhymes with these words if pronounced naturally. Why are they all colours? During a 60 minute interview Rap God himself Eminem had a lot to say about this and subsequently solved the problem in a flash. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_kQBVneC30o
7. The Language of Technology
Anywhere from 80-82% of the information and data stored on computers worldwide is in English. Something interesting to get your students motivated to study English more. If they want to be a part of the worldwide community and get access to internationally contributed information then they need to have a good command of English.
There are 8 ways in which the /i:/ sound manifests itself in English spelling. They can all be found in the sentence: „He believed Caesar could see people seizing the seas so he called the police.”
9. Ough Nough!!!
There many different pronunciations of the letters ‚ough’. Here are 8 different words with ough what that particular cluster of letters are all pronounced differently. ROUGH / COUGH / PLOUGH / THROUGH / HICCOUGH / THOUGHT / THOUGH / EDINBOROUGH / LOUGH
10. Wait your turn
The word QUEUEING contains 5 vowels in a row! One comedian once joked that the word QUEUE itself is just „the letter ‚Q’ with a bunch of vowels behind it. Why not just spell it ‚Q’?
So isn’t English amazing!? What did you think of our list? Do you know any unbelievable facts about English? Let us know in the comments below.