At the end of the 16th century, about five to seven million people spoke English. Nearly all of them lived in England. Later in the next century, people from England made voyages to conquer other parts of the world and because of that, English began to be spoken in many other countries. Today, more people speak English as their first, second or foreign language than ever before.
Native English speakers can understand each other even if they don’t speak the same kind of English. Look at this example:
British Betty: Would you like to see my flat?
American Amy: Yes, I’d like to come up to your apartment.
So why has English changed over time? Actually all languages change and develop when cultures meet and communicate with each other. At first the English spoken in England between about AD 450 and 1150 was very different from the English spoken today. It was based more on German than the English we speak at present. Then gradually between about AD 800 and 1150, English became less like German because those who ruled England spoken first Danish and later French. These new settlers enriched the English language and especially its vocabulary. So by the 1600’s Shakespeare was able to make use of a wider vocabulary than ever before. In 1620 some British settlers moved to America. Later in the 18th century some British people were taken to Australia too. English began to be spoken in both countries.
Finally by the 19th century the language was settled. At that time two big changes in English spelling happened: first Samuel Johnson wrote his dictionary and later Noah Webster wrote The American Dictionary of the English Language. The latter gave a separate identity to American English spelling.
English now is also spoken as a foreign or second language in South Asia. For example, India has a very large number of fluent English speakers because Britain ruled India from 1765 to 1947. During that time English became the language for government and education. English is also spoken in Singapore and Malaysia and countries in Africa such as South Africa. Today the number of people learning English in China is increasing rapidly. In fact, China may have the largest number of English learners. Will Chinese English develop its own identity? Only time will tell.