More than 50 countries around the world use English as an official language. But you might be surprised to learn that some of the major English-speaking countries, like Australia, the United States and England, are not on this list.
So why do certain countries use English as an official language? And what exactly is an official language? Keep reading to learn more and to discover a few surprising facts about English as an official language.
35 Countries and Territories with English as an Official Language:
- Antigua and Barbuda
- The British Virgin Islands
- Cayman Islands
- The Gambia
- Papua New Guinea
- St. Kitts and Nevis
- St. Lucia
- Sierra Leone
- South Africa
- Trinidad and Tobago
- The Turks and Caicos Islands
De Facto vs Official Languages
According to the Cambridge Dictionary, an official language is “the language or one of the languages that is accepted by a country’s government, is taught in schools, used in the courts of law, etc.”
A de facto language is the language that is widely spoken by a country’s population. In countries without an official language, the de facto language is generally used by the government.
There are many political and historical reasons why certain countries don’t make English an official language. In America, for example, the Founding Fathers knew that many different languages were spoken in the new country. They never declared English as the official language, although it was used by the government and most of the population, because they recognized that America was a multilingual society.
5 Fascinating Facts About Countries with English as an Official Language
We’ve listed some of the countries that use English as an official language, but let’s dive deeper to learn some surprising facts.
1. English is the most popular official language in the world.
More than 50 countries around the world use English as an official language. After English, the other most common official languages are French, Arabic and Spanish. However, these are still not nearly as popular as English. These three languages are official in less than 30 countries.
2. Most countries with English as an official language were British territories.
As the British Empire began colonizing and expanding power in the 17th century, it brought the English language around the world. English was used in the colonies and native people were often forced to learn the language. Many Caribbean countries, like The Bahamas and Barbados, were former British colonies that still use English as an official language today.
3. Some US States have their own official language.
While the United States doesn’t have an official language, more than 30 states do. Most of these states use English, but a few have additional official languages. In Alaska, native languages like Inupiaq and Siberian Yupik are also included, and in Hawaii, both English and Hawaiian are official.
4. Official languages can be endoglossic or exoglossic.
Endoglossic languages are official languages that are native to the country while exoglossic are official or widely used languages that are not indigenous to the nation. In Nigeria, for example, English is the exoglossic official language. But, endoglossic languages like Hausa and Yoruba are still widely spoken in Nigeria.
5. One South American country uses English as an official language.
Guyana was a British colony and, despite gaining independence in 1966, still uses English as an official language. This is the only country in South American that uses English as an official language.
Due to many factors, like colonization and the need for a common business language, English became the de facto language for most of the world. However, only about 50 countries actually list English as an official language. To learn about other fascinating cultures and languages, browse the ALTA Beyond Words blog.
Stephanie Brown is a New York City-based travel blogger and freelance content creator.
You can find her at The Adventuring Millennial.