MED Magazine - Issue 37 - April 2006

British and American culture
English around the world

First in a series of articles on the English language and British and American culture.

English is one of the most widely used languages in the world. Recent estimates suggest that around 375 million people speak English as a first language and a further 375 million speak it as a second language. The largest number of English speakers is in the United States. English has also been adopted as the official language by all major international businesses. Of the total estimated 40 million Internet users, 80% currently use English as their medium of communication. English is the official language, or has special status, in 75 territories around the world.

In the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the United States, the majority of the population speak English. In other countries, it is only a minority who speak English, even if it is the 'official language' of that country.

Culture quiz

Find out how much you know about the English-speaking world by answering the questions in this quiz.

1 What is received pronunciation?

Received pronunciation (or RP), also called BBC English (the English spoken on the BBC (the British Broadcasting Corporation), is the standard pronunciation of British English. It reflects the pronunciation of the English spoken in the South East of England (London and the surrounding counties).

In Great Britain, there is a wide variety of regional accents. Nowadays, this wider range of accents is quite commonly heard across TV and radio channels and there isn't as much pressure for presenters to use standard pronunciation.

2 Which are the official languages spoken in Canada?

English and French.

In addition, the indigenous languages of the original inhabitants of the country are also spoken.

3 Which is more widely spoken: American or British English?

American English. Two thirds of all the world's English speakers speak American English.

American English is different to British English although speakers of either can understand each other perfectly. There are certain differences both in pronunciation and vocabulary (e.g. US fall, GB autumn) as well as in the spelling of some words (e.g. US centimeter, GB centimetre).

4 What do you know about Nelson Mandela, the ex-president of South Africa?

He won the election after being in prison for 27 years for fighting against apartheid or racial discrimination. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993.

5 Where are Bangalore and Bollywood?

In India.

Bangalore is the Indian Silicon Valley, an area where there is a high concentration of technological companies. Bollywood is the nickname given to the film industry in India: a pun on Hollywood where the H is swapped for the B for Bombay.

6 What do you know about Pakistan?

It has a population of 150 million, the majority of whom are Muslims and Islam is the official religion. In Urdu, Pakistan means 'land of the pure'. The majority of Pakistanis also speak English.

7 Did you know that some famous and successful films were filmed in New Zealand? Which ones?

For example the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Vertical Limit and The Last Samurai.

8 Where does the name Australia come from?

It comes from the word austral. Australia is in the southern or austral hemisphere.

Australia is the sixth largest country in the world and the only one that is also an entire continent.

Next in the series

Would you like to learn more about the English language? You can read about its origins in the next edition of MED Magazine.

A Spanish language version of the text above is available in the 'Guía Cultural' section of Macmillan Diccionario Pocket, a brand-new bilingual English-Spanish/Spanish-English dictionary.

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