Copyright John T. Reed 2015

I recently wrote about the huge geographic advantages America has (See The Accidental Superpower by Peter Zeihan). No nation has better geography or even comes in a close second. And the advantages that stem from our Anglosphere approach to law and commerce, to use Daniel Hannan’s word (See Inventing Freedom by Daniel Hannan).

The fact that we speak American English is another huge advantage. A number of languages tried to become the lingua franca of the world over the ages: Latin, French, Russian, Spanish.

English did not try, but it won.

Here is what Wikipedia says about it:

It is an official language of almost 60 sovereign states and the most commonly spoken language in sovereign states including the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, Australia, Ireland, New Zealand and a number of Caribbean nations. It is the third-most-common native language in the world, after Mandarin and Spanish. It is widely learned as a second language and is an official language of the European Union and of the United Nations, as well as of many world organisations.

Russia tried to cram their language down the throats of their former Soviet republics. The people of those former republics hate Russian. France succeeded in cramming down the throats of the U.N., but nowhere else. Latin was almost a dead language—kept alive mainly by the Catholic Church.

We won and now, because of network effect, our victory is permanent. Most importantly, English is the international language of business. We are also by far the main producer of the most-watched movies and TV shows not counting the audiences who see them in the U.S. and Canada.

The most widely spoken version of English is Indian, a dialect made famous in America by “Apu” of the “Kwikee-Mart” in the “Simpsons” cartoon series. I had a number of foreign classmates in my 85-person section at Harvard Business School. The hardest for me to understand was an Indian whose native language was English. The second hardest was a Korean.

If you want to learn English to be more successful in life, and it is not your native language, I strongly recommend that you not learn it in India, notwithstanding that they have the most native English speakers. The version that will probably serve you best is American English which has about 340 million speakers in America and Canada. Americans make fun of the Canada accent, but is is more like the Minnesota/North Dakota/Alaska accent than such totally American accents as New England, New York, New Jersey, Baltimore, Chicago, and the old Confederacy.

Snobs from places like non-English-speaking Europe and the Middle East often send their children to school in England so they learn that version of English. Even many Americans regard a British accents—any British accent including Cockney—as evidence of class and intelligence. For a while, American office firms trying to make a top-drawer impression hired British-accented receptionists to show what prosperous, hot stuff they were—like serving a French wine at an American dinner used to make you look good. Neither the British receptionist nor the French wine works any more here. The clerk who rang up my order today at Office Depot was British.

Americans spell some words slightly differently from the way they do in the other English-speaking countries even Canada, like we spell it flavor and they spell it flavour. Americans, even the ones who go ga ga over any BBC show on public TV, are not impressed with those spelling variations. They just make you look foreign or ignorant.

There are also many English words outside of the U.S. that many, if not most, Americans do not understand like calling a truck a lorry or an elevator a lift or a restroom a loo. I am told that the non-North American English speakers do understand spoken American English words like truck, elevator, and restroom because they have watched so many American movies and TV shows.

Today, Americans in general are probably more impressed by a foreigner who speaks American-accented English than one who speaks British-accented English. We would suspect the former graduated from an American college and understood us better. A British accented visitor would be considered more of a foreigner who needed us to explain a lot of things to him—like football, baseball, American use of cars, capitalism.

Ambitious people all over the world are studying English, even in countries that hate us like Russia and China.

In terms of the number of native speakers of the various languages, English comes in third behind Mandarin and Spanish. But speaking Mandarin or Spanish will do little to get you accepted in those countries. The Chinese in China are racist and the native Spanish speakers will always regard you as a gringo. However, a Chinese or Latin American learning English will get them accepted here.

However, look at the number of foreigners for whom English is not their native language who are studying it. Here’s another Wikipedia comment :

…when combining native and non-native speakers it is probably the most commonly spoken language in the world, though possibly second to a combination of the Chinese languages (depending on whether distinctions in the latter are classified as "languages" or "dialects").

Estimates that include second language speakers vary greatly from 470 million to more than a billion depending on how literacy or mastery is defined and measured. Linguistics professor David Crystal calculates that non-native speakers now outnumber native speakers by a ratio of 3 to 1.

it is currently the language most often taught as a foreign language. It is, by international treaty, the official language for aeronautical and maritime communications. English is one of the official languages of the United Nations and many other international organisations, including the International Olympic Committee.

Virtually all Americans know young Americans who work in Asia or elsewhere teaching English—a relatively easy job to get during the recent recession.

How long does it take to learn English if it is not your native language? Five to ten years of study according to the research:

Not having to spend those five to ten years to learn English is a great advantage for native-born English speakers and, as I said above, I think the best version to learn is the American one. Also, those who are not native Americans rarely achieve the full fluency and authentic pronunciation that native-born Americans do no matter how many years the non-native-Americans study.

Furthermore, Americans should not study a foreign language. That will save you two to five years more of wasted time. The rest of the world is studying English. It is obviously duplicative for us to study their languages if they are studying ours. By the way, I was a top language student and studied Spanish, French, German, Russian, and Vietnamese with a smattering of Chinese and Japanese. The only reason Americans study foreign languages is because American elites have an inferiority complex towards Europeans. Europeans typically speak several languages, and we see that as superior sophistication.

Don’t be a moron. Europeans study other languages in elementary school because they live in tiny countries in an ancient continent where they had a different language every time you traveled 50 miles. They have to learn all those languages the same way we would if Pennsylvania, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut and Massachusetts each spoke a different language.

Because North America came about more recently, when people could travel farther, we speak the same language from the North Pole to Florida except for Quebec province. That would be the equivalent of all of Europe and North Africa speaking the same language, only the Mediterranean would also be land and speak that same language, too.

Europeans do not speak multiple languages because they are sophisticated. They speak them because their societies picked their languages in the stone age—like American indians who spoke multiple Indian languages for the same reason—and it sure wasn’t because American Indians were sophisicated and cultured.

By the way, if you want to know which part of America to send your kid to to learn the best American accent, I would say do what I did with my sons. Raise them in California. Years ago, I think anyone who wanted to be an announcer in national electronic media would go to California to get rid of their regional accents which would all but ban them from working outside their native region. Nowadays, regional accents are more tolerated, but not the worst ones. They make you sound stupid to Americans. Comedian Jeff Foxworthy said Southern is the official accent of stupid. He is a Southerner.

Generally, the following, mostly western American states have little or no accents: AK, AZ, CO, HI, ID, MT, NM, OR, southern FL, WA, WY. The others have varying degrees of accents that make you sound a bit stupid or a lot stupid. The worst are probably the south east especially SC, plus Chicago, Boston, New York City, New Jersey, Philadelphia, Baltimore. One senator from SC, Ernest Hollings, ran for president and described himself as the only candidate who did not speak English as his native tongue. Here’s a video clip of him:

I am originally from South Jersey and was horrified to hear my accent on tape when I was a DJ at West Point. I simply consciously forced myself to get rid of it. I still do it occasionally as a comedy routine. Here’s a YouTube of me speaking as a nouveau Californian:

My wife is an American who was born in Indonesia to American expats. She grew up there and in Taiwan and Ethiopia before going to college in Philadelphia. She has no accent, like a Californian. Her late mother was from SC, but I never heard a southern accent from her. I suspect she got rid of it the way I did mine. My wife’s father is from Long Island but he grew up to an extent overseas and did not sound like Bill O’Reilly, the most famous Long Island accent example.

I was inspired to write this because of the 1/3/15 Wall Street Journal article titled “What will the world speak in 2115?” Google the title to read it. I can’t link to it or you’ll just get an ad to subscirbe.

You should also read my web article “Don’t learn Mandarin.”

John T. Reed