English is the third most spoken native language in the world, behind only Mandarin (Chinese) and Spanish, and is spoken by more people overall than any other language in the world. English gained traction around the world during the 17th century—largely due to the influence of the British Empire and the United States—and has become the leading language of international discourse and business.
A brief history of the English Language
English is a West Germanic language, part of a group of languages that developed in the area of Europe's North Sea, which includes modern-day countries such as Germany, Norway, Denmark, and the United Kingdom (among others). There are six West Germanic languages in all: English, Dutch/Flemish, German, Afrikaans, Yiddish, and the lesser-known Frisian.
English as we know it has its origin in Germanic tribes who migrated to the UK around 400-500 CE. The language they developed is typically classified as Old English, and looks very little like the English of today—particularly thanks to its different word order, now-peculiar spellings, and use of characters such as ash (æ) and eth (ð), both of which have fallen out of common use today. This language evolved into Middle English during the twelfth-fifteenth centuries, influenced by Latin, Old Norse, and French. Middle English is much more readable to the modern eye, though the spelling is often still unusual and the th-sounding letter thorn, now written as þ (not to be confused with p) had not yet been replaced by Y (as in "Ye Olde Shoppe" and which, in turn, was later replaced by th).
Sometime around the 1500s, Middle English gave way to Modern English, which continues to evolve and change. For example, today's writing is filled with acronyms, abbreviations, creative use of punctuation and capitalization, and emojis that simply did not exist a century ago.
Top 10 Countries that Speak English as a Primary Language (by total population 2021)
United States — 332,915,073
United Kingdom — 68,207,116
Canada (except for Quebec) — 38,067,903
Australia — 25,788,215
Liberia — 5,180,203
Ireland — 4,982,907
New Zealand — 4,860,643
Jamaica — 2,973,463
Trinidad and Tobago — 1,403,375
Guyana — 790,326
It's important to note that this list includes only countries in which English is the primary language. This has a massive impact on which countries appear on the list. If the list were expanded to include countries in which English is not the primary language but is widely used as a "lingua franca," or common language, the list would change considerably.