It is only in the course of the last hundred years that English has become a world language. In Shakespeare's time it was a ‘provincial’ language of secondary importance with only 6 million native speakers. Nowadays English has become the world's most important language in politics, science, trade and cultural relations with over 350 million native speakers. It is the official language of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ire­land, of Australia and New Zealand. English is used as one of the official languages in Canada, the Republic of South Africa and the Irish Republic. It is also spoken as a second language by many people in India, Pakistan, numerous countries in Africa. Around 375 million people speak English as their first language and another 375 million speak it as a second language.

Even more widely English is studied and used as a foreign language - around 750 million people. In this respect it acquired an international status. It is used for communication across frontiers, listening to broadcasts, reading books and newspapers, in commerce and travel. Half of the world's scientific literature and 80% of the world’s electronically stored information is in English. English is associated with technological and economic development of the great manufacturing countries. It is the language of automation and computer technology, international aviation, shipping and sport. It is the common language of diplomacy.

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