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Global spread of English poses problems for UK

24.02.2006

LONDON: A new landmark report commissioned by the British Council on the position of the English language in the world shows that the global dominance of English poses major problems for Britain.

The 130-page report, released on Wednesday, is titled "English Next" by language researcher David Graddol. It demonstrates that the global spread of English, which has brought tangible benefits to Britain and other native-speaking countries, will lead to serious economic and political disadvantages in the future in Britain unless plans are put in place immediately to remedy the situation.

Graddol concluded that monolingual English graduates face a bleak economic future as qualified multilingual young people from other countries are proving to have a competitive advantage over their British counterparts in global companies and organizations.

"English is, as ever, an important tool for operating on the world stage," said John Whitehead, director of the British Council. "But Graddol's research highlights that once everyone speaks English, companies will naturally look for employees who speak other major languages such as Mandarin Chinese or Spanish as well. There is a need to take radical action and plan for the future, otherwise we in the UK will find ourselves at a permanent disadvantage."

Figures indicated that there has been an explosion in English language teaching since 1945 so that in his previous research, Graddol was able to show that two billion people would be speaking or learning English within a decade.

But in "English Next," he explained that the reason for the huge rise in popularity of English is because it is no longer a foreign language for most of its learners. English is rapidly turning into a near universal basic skill.

Statistics showed that nearly 60 per cent of primary school children now learn English in China. What's more, the total numbers of English speakers in India and China now exceed the number of speakers elsewhere in the world.

Graddol believes that "as global English makes the transition from 'foreign language' to basic skill, it seems to generate an even greater need for other languages."

He cited India as an example. Indians, who "capitalized on their English language skills, are already discovering that they need more languages."

He quoted from figures released by Evalueserve, an Indian-based business process outsourcing (BPO) consultancy, which estimated that Indian companies will need 160,000 speakers of foreign languages by 2010, and that only 40,000 can be supplied by the educational system.

In fact, students at Indian universities have increased interest in language courses. When Central Institute for English and Foreign Languages in Hyderabad advertised a course in Spanish in 2005, it was reported that applicants filled up the slots within an hour.

Moreover, when Singapore Airlines introduced language learning channels on their inflight audio-visual systems in 2005, other airlines have followed suit, according to Graddol.

"Learning languages allows a competitive advantage to be maintained: Only two years ago that advantage was provided by English alone," Graddol pointed out in his report.

For instance, the Evalueserve study calculated that for every one job created for a foreign language professional, two new jobs will be created for Indian English-speaking professionals with the IT and BPO sectors.

Even in English-speaking countries such as the United States and Britain, immigrants have discovered that they not only need to learn the language of their host society, but also other languages.

"Since they tend to live and work alongside other ethnic communities, they may find they have to learn other languages as well," Graddol wrote.

According to an Associated Press article last year, as new immigrants arrive in already diverse neighbourhoods, the language they embrace isn't always English.

"Honduran cooks learn Mandarin. Mexican clerks learn Korean. Most often, people learn Spanish," Graddol wrote in his report.

Even though language experts have done little study on the phenomenon, "the trend could finally help make America a multilingual nation."

Lord Neil Kinnock, chair of the British Council, stressed in his preface to the book that Britain should be very concerned.

"If left to themselves, such trends will diminish the relative strength of the English language in international education markets as the demand for educational resources in languages, such as Spanish, Arabic or Mandarin, grows and international business process outsourcing in other languages such as Japanese, French and German, spreads," Lord Neil wrote.

"The changes identified by David Graddol all present clear and major challenges to the UK's providers of English language teaching to people of other countries and to broader education business sectors."

Lord Neil also pointed out that "the effect of developments in that direction would not be limited to the commercial and educational sectors. Cultural and civil contacts and understanding would also be diluted."

Graddol suggested that the UK's best defence against the threat of the spread of English is to learn other languages. "We have to think carefully about which languages those are," he said. "French, for example, is declining as an international language, but Spanish, Mandarin and Arabic are all languages of the future. Ethnic minority groups in the UK may well prove to be a major asset in this effort."

Whitehead from the British Council regarded the report as "a call to action" for Britain. "In terms of dealing with the future that Graddol predicts, we've already made much headway."

The British Council, Britain's international organization for educational opportunities and cultural relations, kick-started Mandarin classes in the country. It has pioneered a number of programmes to encourage language learning and student/teacher exchanges both in Europe and the Arab world, as well as in Russia, Japan and South America.

"We've already recognized that it is absolutely essential for British children to learn other languages, and we will be working hard to put further strategies in place to ensure this," Whitehead noted.

Source: China Daily

  
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