Which countries speak English as a first language?

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English is one of the most widely spoken languages in the world, but which countries speak it as their primary language?

A Bit of English Language Backstory

English is a West-Germanic language that originated in medieval England. The expansion of the British Empire during the 18th and 19th centuries played a pivotal role in spreading Modern English to all corners of the globe. 

Today, many countries where English holds official status, such as Canada, Australia, Jamaica, and the United States, were once British colonies. Additionally, English has taken root in regions beyond former British territories, including India and various parts of Africa, where it is widely spoken and embedded in societal structures.

With about 400 million native speakers worldwide, the English language holds an important position in the linguistic landscape, trailing only Mandarin Chinese and Spanish in its number of native speakers. 18.8% of the world population speaks English, and 5.5% speaks English as a first language. It’s the most popular second language globally and the most widely taught foreign language. 

When combining native and non-native speakers, English emerges as the most broadly spoken global language, serving as the official language in 97 nations.

What is an Official Language?

An official language is a language that is recognized by a government as the primary means of communication in official matters. 

In many countries, English holds the status of a de jure official language, meaning it is formally recognized by law as an official language of the nation. 

In some cases, English assumes the role of an official language without being the primary language spoken by the majority of the population. It can also function as a lingua franca, or common language. This is especially prevalent in African countries, due to the numerous regional languages.

In addition to countries where English holds de jure official status, there are also nations where English functions as a de facto national language, meaning it is widely used and practiced but not officially recognized by law. One notable example is the United States. Surprisingly, the US does not have a legally-declared official language at the federal level, leading English to hold the status of the de facto national language.

A Comprehensive List of English-Speaking Countries and Territories

English serves as the official language in 67 countries and 30 non-sovereign entities. It is the primary language in 21 countries and 18 non-sovereign entities. Primary language, in this case, refers to the language people speak at home.

North America:

  • Bermuda: Primary. De jure co-official with Portuguese. Bermudian English is considered one of the most unique English dialects in the world.
  • Canada: Primary (except in Quebec). De jure co-official with French.
  • United States: Primary. De facto official. De jure official status in 32 of 50 states.

Central America:

  • Belize: Primary. De jure official. The only Central American country to choose English as an official language.

South America:

  • Falkland Islands: Primary. De jure official.
  • Guyana: Primary. De jure official. The only South American country to choose English as an official language.


  • Akrotiri: De jure official.
  • Dhekelia: De jure official.
  • Gibraltar: Primary. De jure official. Most people also speak Spanish and Llanito, which is a blend of English and Spanish laced with words from other languages.
  • Guernsey: De facto official.
  • Ireland: Primary. De jure co-official with Irish.
  • Isle of Man: Primary. De jure official.
  • Jersey: Primary. De jure co-official with French.
  • Malta: De jure co-official with Maltese.
  • United Kingdom: Primary. De facto official. Scots, Scottish Gaelic, Welsh, Irish, and Cornish are recognized regional languages.


  • Anguilla: Primary. De jure official.
  • Antigua and Barbuda: Primary. De jure official. Barbudan and Antiguan accents are slightly different from each other.
  • The Bahamas: Primary. De jure official.
  • Barbados: Primary. De jure official.
  • British Virgin Islands: Primary. De jure official.
  • Cayman Islands: Primary. De jure official.
  • Curaçao: De jure co-official with Dutch and Papiamento.
  • Dominica: De jure official.
  • Grenada: Primary. De jure official.
  • Jamaica: Primary. De jure official.
  • Puerto Rico: De jure co-official with Spanish.
  • Sint Maarten: Primary. De jure co-official with Dutch.
  • Trinidad and Tobago: Primary. De jure official.
  • Turks and Caicos: Primary. De jure official.
  • US Virgin Islands: Primary. De jure official. St. Croix has a different dialect than St. Thomas and St. John.


  • American Samoa: De jure co-official with Samoan.
  • Australia: Primary. De facto official.
  • Cook Islands: De jure co-official with Cook Islands Maori (Rarotongan).
  • Fiji: De jure co-official with iTaukei and Fiji Hindi.
  • Guam: Primary. De jure co-official with Chamorro.
  • Kiribati: De jure official.
  • Marshall Islands: De jure co-official with Marshallese.
  • Micronesia: Primary. De jure official. There are eight main indigenous languages, and English is widely spoken as a lingua franca.
  • Nauru: De jure official.
  • New Zealand: Primary. De facto official. Maori and New Zealand Sign Language are de jure official languages.
  • Niue: De jure official.
  • Norfolk Island: Primary. De jure co-official with Norfolk.
  • Northern Mariana Islands: Co-official primary with Chamorro. De jure co-official with Carolinian and Chamorro.
  • Palau: Primary. De jure co-official with Palauan. English is official everywhere, and Palauan is official on most islands.
  • Papua New Guinea: De jure co-official with Tok Pisin and Hiri Motu.
  • Pitcairn Islands: Primary. De jure official. The Pitcairn Islands have a population of 50 people.
  • Saint Kitts and Nevis: Primary. De jure official.
  • Saint Lucia: De jure official.
  • Saint Vincent and the Grenadines: Primary. De jure official.
  • Samoa: De jure co-official with Polynesian.
  • Solomon Islands: De jure official. There are over 120 native languages in the Solomon Islands.
  • Tokelau: De facto official.
  • Tonga: De jure co-official with Tongan.
  • Tuvalu: De jure co-official with Tuvaluan. It is the second most spoken language, but there is no official data on how many Tuvaluans speak English.
  • Vanuatu: De jure co-official with Bislama and French. Vanuatu has over 100 indigenous languages.

Indian Ocean:

  • Christmas Island: De facto official.
  • Cocos (Keeling) Island: De facto official.
  • British Indian Ocean Territory: De facto official.


  • Bangladesh: De facto working language.
  • Bhutan: De facto working language.
  • Brunei: De facto working language.
  • Hong Kong: De jure co-official with Cantonese and Mandarin.
  • India: De jure co-official with Hindi. English enjoys the status of subsidiary official language but is the most important language for national, political, and commercial communication.
  • Malaysia: De facto working language.
  • Pakistan: De jure official. Lingua franca of the Pakistani elite and most government ministries.
  • Philippines: De jure co-official with Filipino.
  • Singapore: Primary. De jure co-official with Mandarin, Malay, and Tamil.
  • Sri Lanka: De facto working language.
  • Timor-Leste: De facto working language.

Middle East:

  • Israel: De facto working language.
  • Qatar: De facto working language.
  • United Arab Emirates: De facto working language.

South Atlantic:

  • Saint Helena, Ascension, and Tristan da Cunha: Primary. De facto official.


  • Botswana: De jure co-official with Tswana.
  • Burundi: De jure co-official with Kirundi and French. It’s the least spoken official language.
  • Cameroon: De jure co-official with French. There are 24 major African language groups. English is spoken primarily in the Northwest and Southwest of the country.
  • Eswatini: De jure co-official with Swazi.
  • The Gambia: De jure official.
  • Ghana: Primary. De jure official. Ghana has over 80 native languages; English is primary by default.
  • Kenya: De jure co-official with Kiswahili. Kenya has 68 indigenous languages.
  • Lesotho: De jure co-official with Sesotho.
  • Liberia: Primary. De jure official. There are over 20 native languages in Liberia; English is primary by default.
  • Malawi: De jure co-official with Chichewa.
  • Mauritius: De facto official.
  • Namibia: De jure official. There are 13 national dialects in Namibia; English is used as a lingua franca.
  • Nigeria: Primary. De jure official. Nigeria has over 500 indigenous languages; English is primary by default.
  • Rwanda: De jure co-official with Kinyarwanda, French, and Swahili.
  • Seychelles: De jure co-official with Seychellois Creole and French.
  • Sierra Leone: De jure official.
  • South Africa: De jure co-official with 11 other languages.
  • South Sudan: De jure official. There are over 60 native languages in South Sudan.
  • Sudan: De jure co-official with Arabic.
  • Tanzania: De jure co-official with Kiswahili/Swahili.
  • Uganda: De jure co-official with Swahili.
  • Zambia: De jure official. There are over 70 native languages and dialects in Zambia. English is used as a lingua franca.
  • Zimbabwe: De jure co-official with Shona, Ndebele, and 13 minority languages.

The Global Phenomenon of English

From its birthplace in England to its spread across continents, English has grown into a global language. 

While countries like the US, the UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand are commonly recognized as English-speaking nations, it’s important to acknowledge the rich tapestry of English-speaking communities worldwide, each contributing to the language’s evolution and vitality. 


67 English Speaking Countries & More: A Huge & Helpful Guide

English Speaking Countries 2024

English – Worldwide distribution

Languages – The World Factbook

List of countries and territories where English is an official language – Wiki

List of countries by English-speaking population – Wiki

List of official languages by country and territory – Wiki

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