English Around the World: How Many Countries Actually Speak English?
If you speak English, you can communicate with people on six continents.
There are English speakers to be found from the northern tip of Canada to the southern tip of Africa, and everywhere in between.
That is great news for English learners!
You are learning a truly global language that will expand your personal and professional connections across the globe.
But maybe you have heard this all before.
Maybe you want something a little more concrete:
How many countries speak English? Where exactly can I live, work or travel as an English speaker?
In this post, we will show you 70 countries where English is spoken to varying degrees. You will learn which countries will totally immerse you in the English language, and other countries where English can help you communicate but is not the primary language.
How Did English Spread Throughout the World?
The arrival of the Anglo-Saxons in Britain is usually considered the beginning of the English language’s spread. The language changed when Norse invaders brought several new words, which were added into daily speech. English began to borrow some words from French and Latin.
During the Medieval period, English started to become more standardized. As London grew, other dialects of English began to fade or merge into what we think of as English today.
The British Empire is typically considered the next major phase of English’s spread. As England invaded regions around the world and established colonies, it brought English with it.
Today, English is the third most common primary language in the world, right behind Mandarin Chinese and Spanish. Over one billion people across the world speak English, though only around 380 million speak it as their first language.
It is one of the most commonly studied languages and is sometimes called a global language because it is used for international organizations.
Pilots are required to communicate in English for international flights, and organizations such as the United Nations and the European Union list English as an official working language. This is partly because so many countries speak English or recognize it as an official language. Keep reading to find out which ones!
Why It’s Hard to Say Exactly How Many Countries Speak English
First, we need to define what it means for a country to be “English speaking.”
According to the University of Sheffield, there are 18 countries where the majority of the population is native English speaking. These include countries all over the globe, from Canada to the Bahamas to Australia.
This number is far from the total, though, because it does not include countries where English is an official language but not the primary spoken language. More than 50 countries have formally listed English as an official language, but in many of them—such as Cameroon, for example—not everyone actually speaks the language in daily life.
In some countries, English is the de facto official language. This means it is the primary language of daily life and work, although not formally listed as an official language. For example, the U.S. does not have an official language, but English is the de facto official language.
Finally, there are many other countries where English is spoken as a minor language. In other words, only a portion of the population speaks it or it is only used in certain contexts, like in school or tourism settings.
Because this can be a confusing question, I have broken the following list down to 70 countries that speak English. Keep reading to find the full list and the explanation of why each country or territory has been included in this count.
English Around the World: How Many Countries Actually Speak English?
English Speaking Countries in the Americas
As we mentioned above, the U.S. does not actually have an official language, but the majority of the population speaks English and it is the language used for education and government affairs.
Canada is the other main English-speaking country in the Americas, though French is the country’s second official language and much of the population speaks both.
Many countries in the Caribbean speak English as well. Here are the countries and territories that speak English as an official language:
- Antigua and Barbuda
- Cayman Islands
- Puerto Rico
- Saint Kitts and Nevis
- Saint Lucia
- Trinidad and Tobago
- The Virgin Islands
It is important to note that although English is the official language, many of the people who live in these countries do not speak English, and may communicate mostly in Spanish, French, French Creole or other languages during their daily lives.
English Speaking Countries in Europe
Did you know that 90% of European school children study English at some point during their education? However, that does not mean they speak it fluently as adults.
There are several countries and territories in Europe that primarily speak English and/or have English as an official language. They are:
- Northern Ireland
- The Isle of Man
English Speaking Countries in Africa
Most African countries have many different official languages. South Africa, for example, has 11 different official languages, and even more languages and dialects are spoken in the country. Though English is listed as an official language in these countries, many people may not speak English. In Namibia, for example, only 7% of the population speaks English, even though it is the only official language.
In Botswana, English is the official business language, but not spoken frequently. Many people in Eritrea and Ethiopia speak English as well, though it is not an official language.
Countries where English is an official language and spoken by a majority of the population are:
- South Africa
English is also listed as the official language, but not used as a primary language, in the following countries:
- Saint Helena
- Sierra Leone
- United Republic of Tanzania
English Speaking Countries in Oceania
Australia, like the U.S. and U.K., does not list English as an official language, though it is the primary language and the de facto official language. Other countries in Oceania that speak English are American Samoa and Cook Islands. English is one of the official languages in New Zealand.
English is listed as the official languages of several other countries, though it is not the primary spoken language. They are:
- Marshall Islands
- Northern Mariana Islands
- Papua New Guinea
- Solomon Islands
English Speaking Countries in Asia
In Asia there are some countries where English is an official or de facto official language, even if it is not necessarily a primary language. They are:
- Sri Lanka
In India, Pakistan and the Philippines, English is an official language, though used mainly in government and education. In Singapore, English is an official language and a widely spoken language.
Now that you know just how many countries speak English, it is time to practice your own English! Hopefully this list will help motivate you to study, since knowing the language can open doors to travel to many, many different countries around the world. There are a lot of people learning to speak English, so you are in good company as you practice speaking and reading English and get ready to add it to your daily life.