I can see the future: English will be the only language that matters for future generations. I don’t say this with disrespect to languages that are dying off such as French and German or without realization that there are sad implications for humanity as a whole; I know this will happen because of utility. It has nothing to do with British colonization or American economic influence. I am not a Sinophobe and don’t worry about the 21st century being dominated by China. As China becomes the center of the world economy, it’s language will be secondary to English. This will happen for one simple reason: flexibility of language.
In English words, not tones, matter. Communication is about conveying your meaning, removing tones from the equation is a huge faciliator to learning. For example, an American, Scottish and Australian drinking together will pronounce things differently, in different tones, but be able to communicate nonetheless. You don’t even need people from different countries to hear the differences, within Englsh speaking countries you can find a wide variety of pronunciation. You say “tomáto,” I say “tomaato,” we don’t need to call the whole thing off, we can still argue about what real football is. This is a huge advantage for English becoming the dominant language, it makes learning substantially easier than languages that have tones or exact pronunciations.
As the world further globalizes and becomes interconnected, there is a need for a common language. The ease of learning English, where people can learn by studying phonetics and memorizing vocabulary is a huge contributor to why it will be the world’s language. Beyond the spoken language is the written, when it comes to contracts and trade, the fact that English has an astonishingly wide vocabulary of specific words allows both parties to feel confident agreeing to terms. There is no context required to understand what is being agreed to, no “this means ‘big’ and ‘feces’ depending on how it’s used.” I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to receive a shipment of shit boxes instead of big boxes…
The single largest reason English will become the world’s language is adaptability. It is the only major language that people can officially invent in. Invention, creation and evolution is and will continue being the driving force behind development worldwide, and only English can do this. Do you know why this is? English does not have a Language Regulator, it is the free-market, evolutionary language. In all other major languages new words need to be approved by academics and officially added to a language.
In English, if you create a cool word and people use it, guess what? It becomes part of the language. When new technologies are created, only English is able to adapt quickly enough, that is why the English word “computer” has been adopted throughout many languages. The academics at the language regulators aren’t able to keep up with progress, therefore the English word won (see 2010 Oxford American new words and The Simpson’s effect on English). English is the only major language suited for an ever faster moving and evolving world.
English becoming the dominant tongue does have some regrettable effects though. It will accelerate language and culture assimilation, or more bluntly, death. Language shapes the way we think and experience life, there are many studies that have shown that our mother tongue has a permanent affect on our thought process (see this and this). English is a horribly literal language, we are bound by our verbs and words that cause us to categorize more than contextualize (see The Geography of Thought). English also isn’t sexy, it doesn’t slide off the tongue the way Portuguese does. As future generations learn English instead of other languages, we lose a little understanding of history, culture and maybe even knowledge. As sad as this may be, evolution cannot be stopped and English is the right tool for the job: communicating in a global world.
We should not cease learning other languages or travel expecting everyone to know English (“for their own good”). The fact is that bilingual and multilingual people are more successful (see this) and there are cognitive benefits to learning another language (see this). Learning another language, especially Mandarin and Spanish, is not only useful, but will make you a better person.