There are over 50 countries where English is an official language and is the language of instruction in higher education. Approximately two billion people study English, and three billion people speak it. Around a billion people travel across borders every year, 75% of whom move from one non-English speaking country to another non-English speaking, yet communicate in English while they are there.
There are two key results of this globalisation of English. Firstly, non-native English-speakers now outnumber native ones 3 to 1. In fact there are more Chinese children studying English—about 100 million—than there are Britons. Secondly, there are a lot of Englishes (i.e. different forms of English) – for example Indian English is gaining increasing importance. Around 10% of India’s population (125 million) supposedly speak English, but those who speak in a way that might be considered acceptable in the UK or US, may be only be 2%. In any case, giving India’s expanding population the number of good English speakers is likely to be higher than those in the US within a couple of decades.
In reality there is no ‘best’ English. To some extent American English (often referred to as AE) is often purer than British English (BE). AE has retained many characteristics of BE because settlers tend to be conservative – in fact, the Spanish spoken in South America is in many ways ‘older’ than the Spanish spoken in Spain. On the other hand, supposed characteristics of AE can actually be found in pre-revolutionary BE – for example, gotten is BE and was not coined by settlers. George Bernard Shaw, the Irish playwright, is reputed to have said: “England and America are two countries separated by a common language.”
However, certainly in the past the British thought their English was best.