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Chinese vs English as an International Language

In our past blog posts, we have looked at some facts about historical development of English within British Isles. In fact, English is first and foremost an international language. A British linguist, Peter Strevens, even traced the growth of English as a world language.

Nevertheless, use of Chinese in the world today is also growing fast and becoming popular as China economy blooms. So how people should compare Chinese vs English as an international language?

We, China Sources Team, believe that although Chinese language is being used by a huge number of people, most current users are indeed local Chinese people inside PRC (People's Republic of China) since Chinese population is already huge enough. Chinese language is also widely used in most oversea China towns across the globe, but international use of Chinese is still limited and not yet comparable to that of English.

We, China Sources Team, however also believe that Chinese language has a good potential to develop as an international language in the future, thanks to the historical opening-up economic reform policy inside PRC. So how will Chinese language possibly become an international language? We think that we should firstly study how English developed itself as an international language in the past period.

Here let us show you five stages outlined by Peter Strevens for the development of English as an international language:

Stage 1: It was a foundation and consolidation period (1350-1600) when English first emerged in a modern form.

Stage 2: It was an adventurer period (1600-1800) when English was widely transported to North America, Africa, Australia, India and other colonial settlements.

Stage 3: It was an era of independent colonies (1780-1914) when markedly different forms of English first started to appear in U.S. (United States), India, Australia, Canada, New Zealand etc.

Stage 4: It was the age of colonial subjects (1900-1950) when English was extensively taught through English-medium school systems in British colonies in Asia, Africa and Asian Pacific region.

Stage 5: It is a cultural-independence period (from 1950 onwards) when English starts to lose its dominant cultural association with its mother nation, Britain. Various countries or regions around the world, eg: India, Nigeria, Singapore, Hong Kong etc begins to develop their own forms of English with a local identity used for localized purposes within their societies, as well as for international communications.

Above five-phase classification outlined by Peter Strevens for the development of world English just present a somewhat simplified account of what was a very complex series of historical events. Nevertheless, it is also a very useful starting point for studying spread of English throughout the world. Growth of English as an international language has also been accelerated by a particularly-influential branch of global English family, that is American English, thus more influential globally when U.S. becomes a leading economic and political power.

We, China Sources Team, believe that the world nowadays focus more on economic power rather than traditional war, and there is indeed no need for China to develop colonies like Britain in the past in order to spread Chinese language throughout the globe. When more and more trading partners start to use Chinese language for business communication purposes, there is still chance that Chinese will develop as the next international language one day.

That is why when we want to compare Chinese vs English as an international language, we should also compare economic development potentials among China vs U.K. in the future as well. Many economists do expect that China economy will continue to grow rapidly, and will not be likely to grow slower than U.K.'s (or even U.S.'s) economic growth pace. If this condition remains true and more foreigners begin to learn Chinese, it may just be a matter of time for Chinese to develop as the next international language one day.

So time will tell! We, China Sources Team, will wait to see when Chinese language will become more influential globally. As future application outside PRC will be increasingly popular, it will also be likely that people around the world will develop their own forms of Chinese with a local identity used for localized purposes within their societies, as well as for international communications.

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