Is the English Language Bubble About to Burst?

with 112 comments

English for sale

The British Prime Minister was in China and India last week and in stark contrast with other world leaders who have been in a rather gloomy mood lately, warning us of hard times, deficits and sacrifices, Gordon Brown was in Asia to give out gifts like a pale yet jolly English Santa.  One gift, I should say.

The gift of English.

“In total, 2 billion people worldwide will be learning English by 2020. But there are millions more on every continent who are still denied the chance to learn English”, said the Prime Minister.  “So today I want Britain to make a new gift to the world: a commitment to help anyone – however impoverished and however far away – to access the tools they need to learn English.”

You know times are rough when people start giving away their product.

Because the English language is a product. It is a commodity that is bought and sold on the world markets.  In 2005, back when he was  chancellor of the exchequer, Gordon Brown himself said that English was the UK’s biggest foreign currency earner.  The value of English to Britain’s economy was second only to North Sea oil, according to the British Council.

English language teaching in the strictest sense is a lucrative service industry, with annual global revenues of billions of dollars a year.  International education exports like textbooks – twenty-five percent of books sold in China are English learning-related! – and international students who come to study in British universities are worth over 28 billion pounds a year to the British economy.

But that doesn’t even come close to giving you an idea of the value of the English language for Britain and other English-speaking countries.

English on its own is useless, like Microsoft Windows on a computer that doesn’t have any other software.  The real value of English is that it is an essential technology for workers and countries that want to access globalized commerce networks and western science.  It’s a platform.  And just like when you choose a Mac over a PC or the Xbox over the Wii, your choice is a commitment to continue buying other related products and technology built on the English language platform.

When people adopt the English platform they are also adopting English education, English books and magazines, English engineering and English technology.

The 1990’s and the 00’s  was a moment of unprecedented profitability for anything related to the English language.  « Nearly a third of the world population will all be trying to learn English at the same time”, observed linguist David Graddol in a report to the British Council on the state of English in 2006.  « These children belong to a moment in world history – unprecedented and probably unrepeatable – at which students throughout formal education – from early primary school, secondary school, and students in college and university – are all learning English at beginner or intermediate level. »

“Unprecedented and unrepeatable”.   “A moment in world history.”  A bubble?

English, like oil and bandwidth, is inextricable from global commerce and trade.  The demand for English and the price people are willing to pay for it rises with the volume of trade in the globalized market.  When the market breaks down, as it just did, demand for all the lubricants of global trade – oil, capital, English –  drops, and the value of those commodities fall.

But in the case of English, the market broke down just as it was being flooded with new discount providers like the Philippines and Singapore.  Everyone was trying to get a piece of the English boom.  The United Arab Emirates alone opened at least five English language universities in the last decade.  Even France offers English-only programs in its universities, merde!

A market with no room for growth, saturated with way to much capacity is hit by a sharp and sudden drop in demand.

Pop goes the bubble?

Is a near universal skill still valuable?  How about when hundreds of millions people across Europe and Asia who have spent considerable time and money to learn English find themselves unemployed?

English is probably too deeply entrenched in the mechanisms of commerce and science to completely lose it’s position as the global language.  But during the last few decades just about every country in the world built up its ability to teach itself English through it’s public school system.  There is no longer the absolute necessity to purchase English on the private market.

So how do you keep your market share when your product is no longer competitive?  You give it away and flood the market.

That’s exactly what Gordon Brown did last week.

Written by angryfrenchguy

January 25, 2009 at 7:23 pm

112 Responses

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  1. @ Bruce,

    “Rapelle-toi que je vote pour les verts, pas pour BQ ou PQ!”

    No issues Bruce, the green is a committed bunch with good intentions..

    “Et je soutiens encore la conception du Canada! C’est mon pays, en dépit que ma patrie est la Colombie britannique!”

    BC is a great province…beautiful and majestic..Enjoy it much…Don’t ever sell out ton e’space de origine.

    “Vu que mon intérêt culturel et linguistique est tout à l’heure axé sur la langue française, et la culture québécoise je ne vois aucun conflit entre ces réalités qui apparaissent paradoxales, peut-être à toi.”

    “Peut-etre double si vous voulent..”

    “Quant à le bien-être social, c’est une chose dont je n’ai aucun besoin.”

    Ca va bien, j’espere vous toutes des choses que tu desiree…now your not on some old aged student program are you ;)

    “Sur le plan économique, je suis d’accord avec toi qui nous sommes vraiment dans de très beaux draps maintenant.”

    The downturn hasn’t even reached the bottom..but the politicians would have us think otherwise (consumate sales people I guess) . Those that owe money are screwed…They will lend you a dollar if you have a dollar and that says it all. Just wait and see. Corporations (most of them August 31 year ends) are stating Q1 profits as ok…just wait to quarter 2..and see the “merde” hit the fan.

    Just look at the sad faces today…it will get worse. Not to be too much of a cynic but those with any chance of making it are looking at those that are soon to be the dead fish in the water with wide eyes.

    “Desolé aussi mon pauvre poisson pour ta grande blessure aux mains de GCL! Ça n’était pas juste!”

    No worryies about GCL. Shooting a shotgun into water at close range is poor practice.. I imagine even Sarah Palin knows that :):)

    Of course what would any person with right wing philosophy know about anything. You know..those socialists. .we like parties and festivals, we like beer..we like time off but most importantly someone else should pay the tab at the end of the night.

    What was it 8.5 Billion in Equalization this year, (62% increase in just four years) hydro revenues not included in the formula which ( if included) would have cut this by over 50% and Gilles and Jean want more…Go figure.

    Tell me it ain’t so…oh my, I am sure GCL will criticize my english now. Ain’t … je suis beacoup desole avec ca…is not, isn’t etc etc.



    January 29, 2009 at 11:42 pm

  2. “Oh, that’s right. At least you horrid little bigots are still allowed to portray us as lazy, parasitic, ungrateful bums who sponge off of what you’ve worked to create while plotting to destroy it from within. How nice for you. ;)” ou est la loi de langue…??? TsK, TsK…Je penser suele une provence du Canada.

    Sur le balance, do your shoes fit??



    January 29, 2009 at 11:50 pm

  3. bruce

    The national newspaper of ROC!!! the mop and pail, the glib and snail, the bloat and male?

    everyone – i mean everyone – knows that canada’s national post has got it hands down all over that toronto-centric piece of lah-dee-dah that is just slightly better than the red star.

    and if anyone hurts my feelings over this one – i’m going to hold my breathe and stamp my feet until i turn blue.

    in case ya didn’t know.

    funny how everyone’s got an opinion, eh?

    did somebody say they were giving away shoes?


    January 30, 2009 at 2:55 am

  4. johnny!

    Ben wahll, Ahm soooh terriblement sahhrrry, ma Mahn!

    But just a tip, of O2 take thou just a sip, before your brain so blue will slip, into that awful final trip!

    (Also feet stamping bruises are not solved by new ‘free’ shoes either,btw, buddy).

    Listen up guy, Conrad’s ..(isn’t he doing time somewhere?).. old high-falutin’ diatribe rag for the rich and très fameux*, — remember Barbara Amiel’s self vaunted “obscene couture budget, par exemple? — is just a schill sheet to make Bay street tycoons feel good about their down-their-nose views of practically everyone else in the land.

    Narcicistic sycophantic elitist preening prattle, persistent, “press”ing, not to mention purulent, puerile and pusilanimous! Pukin’ pulp in a paraphrase!

    (Re)pugnant, pugnacious…. pis ben, que de la pathétique!

    And to think that Conrad, may he rot,…. got his first big ‘Con’-opportunity at the Sherbrooke Record il y a quelques décennies!

    Johhhhnnny! You have such refined aesthetic for the vocal art of French sopranos, something I admire in you with deep respect.

    But… yeah, for thinking all round red blooded anglos, in their fair-minded mentally balanced numbers the Globe, “hands down” is where it is at my man.

    Gosh, even Rod Love of all people is proud to present a sane opinion piece there!

    Did Rod Love have some sort of epiphanic ‘virage’ one morning, hurling down his copy of that “other” paper whose name just slipped off your lips, uh sorry, fingertips?

    Otherwise why would he ‘Post’in the ‘Globe’?

    What paper didya say? Ohh! was it that one?.. the national Black Hole? … some victims, they say, get sucked in forever!

    Hole, post, post and hole, postie and hostie, Hostie!

    Jesu, joy of man’s desiring! Makes you want to choke off your brain’s oxygen and go the the stampede. Gotta ‘Love’ those stamps though!

    Calice de calvaire de tabernak!

    It sure IS >funny how everyone’s got an opinion, eh?<!

    If you managed to look at the Globe’s print edition, whadya think about the gorgeous tableau of Wolf’s ethereal demise? …(subcaption.. "Even Gen. Wolfe had reason to resist a do-over")… In case you missed the artist’s "re-enactment" of that part of the battle, you can view the celebrated painting at the Royal Ontario Museum.

    Hey guy, ever looked down at the back of your hand to see if blue blood is running there?

    Johnny, no hard feelings whatsoever guy!

    But really!

    *fameux = pas célèbres = ‘notorious’ as in the ‘Notorious’ Nat. Post


    January 30, 2009 at 11:49 am

  5. Johnny, sorry for such an over the top RANT!

    (I just was seized by a little GCL moment! Never, anyone, please, please, please, never put a shot-gun in my hands!! Thanks all!)

    To Everyone: Its ‘fess up time here!

    Thanks to CLAUDE B in the previous thread for the radio-canada 1959 archive, ( but the interview was a bit boring, — style of the time — monotone, black and white etc.) which I couriel-ed to Alain Thomas, mon prof d’icitte à Guelph, bon homme qu’il est, AND … then it was HE who alerted me to Rod Love’s article in Tuesday’s Globe (I only do newspapers on the weekends…)

    So hat’s off here to Alain Thomas, originaire de l’ouest de France, et bon citoyen actuel de Canada!


    January 30, 2009 at 12:08 pm

  6. Why is it that I get the urge to yell “Sancho, Sancho!” every time I come on here these days?


    January 30, 2009 at 2:54 pm

  7. I don’t get the Sancho, Sancho! reference.

    True, It is a quixotic little world we’ve created here, but it’s only Amir Khadir who’s chasing after the windmills.

    By the way, Isabelle au bois dormant was brilliant!


    January 30, 2009 at 4:40 pm

  8. oops. That was johnny, sorry. You guys all look the same in here.


    January 30, 2009 at 4:42 pm

  9. “Why is it that I get the urge to yell “Sancho, Sancho!” every time I come on here these days?”

    Pour quoi est Sancho…

    Je ne pas comprende ca..

    Si vous voulent le espanogol…ok with me..

    Or you talking about intellectuals ( or more factual as I dont liekly quantify as an intelluctaul by your standards) comment est ca…

    De quoi tu demande, ACJ.

    Je suis tres desole pour ma francais de mal… Desole, Je ne partie pas notre payee…Bien sur, je contribute pour ton economique tour jour…mais…pour quoi.

    Sorry for the bad french..its most likely disgusting.. je suis quitter me attendre la fancais.. Pour quois pas, cette une langue en pas eleve.

    Il n y pas raison pour ca..

    Vous avez une bonne vie..

    Au Revoir pour maintenaut,




    January 30, 2009 at 10:34 pm

  10. This blog has gone joycean. Strange…


    January 30, 2009 at 11:12 pm

  11. If there is a Sancho, there must be a Don Quichotte fighting winds and scary dreams, no?


    January 30, 2009 at 11:45 pm

  12. ABP,

    (if you’re still listening in,) Don’t get so down on yourself — get it together a little, and you’ll laugh again someday ( and soon!)

    For one thing, clearly you understand quite a lot of written French here, so that is already a small important victory.

    You’re not ReQuirReD to write ANY French in the blog, (nor to be unreasonably intellectual or to be someone’s fish either.) The fact that you try to express basic human feelings in some French (T-shirt: Cassé, comme moi aussi) is an admirable thing.

    I have personally broken some of the blog rules, but I could not stay here if I did not, and you and others both franco and anglo are slipping into a (only slightly) bilingual sort of dialogue-ing, which is something to begin sharing.

    I feel we should try to celebrate both languages here, and you are doing that, in pouring out some inner sadness expressed in French, however unorthodox,

    I probably missed where you live -most are in Montréal — you too? Acajack is in Quebec nearer the border.

    About Dave, I’m unsure, Johnny is thankful to live in Montréal in Québec, in Canada, on the planet, and he likes the National POst (yechhhht.)

    You wouldn’t be on here in the first place, if you did not have an emotional attachment to Quebec despite your attachment to warning of the economic truths as you see them, and difficult times coming like a freight train.

    You are not like geck or billy bob or sergei who just heckle out poison because they have nothing that would resonate with anyone who wishes to really communicate.

    So don’t go away, cuz there’s not many ‘anglefish’ here left in the AFG aquarium!

    I know we are a crazed group, and ACJ says we are tilting at windmills, with the Sancho bit, from a Spanish story about Don Quiote and Sancho his squire.

    You know, it is good when a person’s sensitive feelings come out, that’s when you start to know them.


    January 31, 2009 at 12:10 am

  13. Pour ABP
    1. Tous les politiciens au monde incluant Gilles Duceppe defendent les interet de leurs electeurs.
    2. La perequation est un systeme federal( eh oui, ca vient avec la Canada) qui a ete cree pour COMPENSER le fait que les investissemnts majeurs sont contralises en Ontario.
    3. Si tu es contre le fait que les politiciens defendent les interets de leurs electeurs, il faut plutot s’interesser a la couture.
    4. Si tu es contre la perequation, il faut quitter le Canada, avec ou sans ta province.
    Next time i will try to write in english…


    January 31, 2009 at 12:42 am

  14. voulais dire centralises et non contralises..mes excuses..


    January 31, 2009 at 12:50 am

  15. Don Quixote. that is…

    Also ABP, personally speaking I use ‘ain’t’ all the time, and wouldn’t give a fig if GCL commented on poor English,… He uses that weapon just on geck types anyhow…)

    If he were kind enough however to correct my French I would be honoured.

    Yours, at this stage,.. probably he won’t be giving you a lot of personal attention…. The fact that you tried, not too badly, I’d say, will be enough to elicit a glimpse of mellow recognition.

    I think I got your gist, and who am I.

    GCL and ACJ are AFG’s resident heavy-weight intellectuals, (well Edward and Stephen Gordon also for the anglo side) but sometimes Olivier or Marc, or ClaudeB or Matthieu or Nom or others come on to contribute to the ‘fun’ or perhaps the farcical disunity and indiscipline of this corner of cyberspace.

    ABP and Johnny are the economic doomsday theoreticians so necessary I suppose. But we should all slander one another without bitterness.


    January 31, 2009 at 12:52 am

  16. And sorry, MIDNIGHTJACK, I forgot to name you here, so..

    And Yeah, I think ABP will understand your 4 points.


    January 31, 2009 at 12:57 am

  17. ABP, Maybe you mentioned before living in Alberta? Midnightjack seeems to know where you live.


    January 31, 2009 at 1:00 am

  18. Just a little plug for the University of Guelph at

    Anyone who did not have the privilege of a bilingual family/community and was thus deprived of something wonderful in life, but regrets not having very much French, can take advantage of Distance Education through the Open Learning Office at U of Guelph.

    French 1090DE, French 1100DE, and French1120DE are distance ed multimedia quite wonderful (award winning) courses, that build a sequence of reading (1090), listening (1100) and writing (1120).

    These are pre-University courses that get your French up to speed required to take U levels courses in French, which could then be done in your local Québec community college or Univ. programs.

    Not to say that there are’t all sorts of comparable courses in Québec, just to say that these one’s were effective for me.

    Then take a summer session in Chicoutimi (UQAC) 3 or 5 weeks.
    Anyone who does this, and sincerely works at it, is virtually guaranteed to start enjoying the language.

    Why Guelph? Well as far as distance education goes, it is as practical as anything else for secretly getting up a head of steam in French, plus you get a lot of history and culture, both Québec and France.

    This route has been personally tested out by an at first very sceptical >meme< to go on to a full University program of French undergrad studies, even though I’m just a part time student.

    So if any Québec anglos (or others) visiting this blog feel they would like to shine up their French for use at home where you live, I would say — take a walk on the wild side and go for it.


    January 31, 2009 at 1:01 am

  19. I hope so Bruce, but it is not the first time i mention those points and he still ignore it: i think he doesn`t want to see the facts. He has to much emotions and become confuse when we’re talking about Quebec and money in the same sentence..i’m joking…


    January 31, 2009 at 1:04 am

  20. @ Brude.

    Je suis de “le terre de le vivre soleil” ou en le plate de billet…le terre de le vive ciel….I think you would with these two understand.

    but, I also pay taxes in “la belle province” avec ma maisson en NDG(you not being from Montreal that would be Notre Dame de Grace…just a bit west of Westmount…over autoroute 15 l’ouest..c’et ville de monkland…oui….where ACJ was raised).. I also pay taxes in many other provinces so can compare each as one. Aussie d’autre payees habitants comme mexique…Que, Nous amirons tres bien.

    J’ai une fille en Montreal avec deux notre petite enfants qui’ons nous amourons beucoupe…et…Leurs sont heuruese en montreal (because id ont know how to say there) Elle attendre l’ecole du Mcgill ens the science de politique…Wonder where she got that..considering she also has a degree in enviromental engineeing de le U of L….c’est possible que deux decrees sont meiux que une.. Je ne sais pas avec ca..

    Alors..tu avez fait…et les facons avec ABP..

    Si vous regardez…Je suis ne pas critique avec le belle province, leur pourvrons beacoupe milleur si toute de monde besoin fait…une chemin ou d’autre rue..

    De quois Je connaise ave ca..

    Au revoir mon ami.

    Encore.. Je desole pour ma mal francais a touts.



    January 31, 2009 at 1:33 am

  21. Ok, ABP,

    Thanks for your kind personal insights.

    I follow your French are you saying you were born in Mexico and have family and a place there, and youlive in snowy NDG Montreal/Quebec where the living sky is so generous with snow, with your partenaire, and your 2 little children and you really like Quebec a lot, with your family happy in Montreal. And Acajack was a child in a nearby neighbourhood.

    The tax thing — you run a business with sales and taxes in the other Provinces as well? Your partner is an environmental engineer who is also doing Polysci at McGill, and you wish the political question of Canada was resolved one way or the other, because life is so uncertain.

    Like is like that!

    You have a base of skill in French, and need to use it and laugh at yourself (why not?) (while improving and studying of course). If you have the time. I don’t mind deciphering semi-cryptic French. The thing is that you’ve got the guts to put it out here, which takes courage, so good for you. I’d continue.

    The others here can see your humility — awesome to witness. You are a real person. Just don’t let money logic run your total life.

    Dorme bien, bon ami. T’es une partie de ce blog.


    January 31, 2009 at 2:01 am

  22. @ Bruce.

    Well, Obviousy have f’ked up completely.

    OK..the land of the living skies..check the licence plates,,.. you know the one with the sheaf of wheat…

    I have to improve my francais…should have my other translate.

    My petit enfants would be our grand children…My daughter is the one in MCGill…you really go that screwed up…Likely my bad french…of course in Quebec they don’t refer to grand children as “petits enfants” must be another words..Could someone here enllighten me so I don’t keep making an idiot of myself.

    I am not dark enough , although when I come back from Mexique..I might need a green card..Unfortunately the tan is overcome by flaking white skin…..Yes, I do have a house in I do in Montreal and real estate in a number pf provinces, includng Quebec. As I tried to explaind …but that didnt work out with ma francais malgarise.

    Really quite funny ..muy aigops, por que te ni comprendez…

    Just a joke..

    Bottle of good “cote de rhone” and a a dish of mussles will fix it for both of us.

    Bonne nuit Bruce.



    January 31, 2009 at 2:40 am

  23. Really quite funny ..muy aigops, por que te ni comprendez…

    Must be the sangria…coudnt even get that right.

    Muy amigo…not…muy aiopops…lo siento Bruce.

    Hasta pronto.



    January 31, 2009 at 2:48 am

  24. ABP, in Quebec, the grandchildren are ‘les petit enfants, or ‘ mes petits enfants ‘, you were right..


    January 31, 2009 at 3:47 am

  25. “1. Tous les politiciens au monde incluant Gilles Duceppe defendent les interet de leurs electeurs.”

    il y a beaucoup de politiciens – mais bon, pas tous.

    “2. La perequation est un systeme federal( eh oui, ca vient avec la Canada) qui a ete cree pour COMPENSER le fait que les investissemnts majeurs sont contralises en Ontario.”

    le projet de perequation est vieux maintenant et il ne represente non plus son propre concu juste.

    “3. Si tu es contre le fait que les politiciens defendent les interets de leurs electeurs, il faut plutot s’interesser a la couture.”

    ou par contre – faits des efforts pour les remplacer.

    “4. Si tu es contre la perequation, il faut quitter le Canada, avec ou sans ta province.”

    peut-etre le troisieme option de continuer jusqu’a point qu’il est changee est pas mal possible.

    the canadian structure is an interesting set of historical constitutional blocks – built one on top of the other – not one replacing the other. changing equalisation payments (a legal labrynthe) is akin to changing all the windows and doors in your 3 storey home in one day. demolishing the existing building to make two new ones doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. maybe changing

    why more individuals here do not acknowledge the numbers and pertinent facts that abp tables is a mystery to me. they might not suit the beneficiaries of the system but numbers are numbers in any language.


    January 31, 2009 at 1:37 pm

  26. DE GUICHE (qui s’est dominé, avec un sourire):
    . . .Avez-vous lu Don Quichot ?

    Je l’ai lu.
    Et me découvre au nom de cet hurluberlu.

    Veuillez donc méditer alors. . .

    UN PORTEUR (paraissant au fond):
    Voici la chaise.

    Sur le chapitre des moulins !

    CYRANO (saluant):
    Chapitre treize.

    Car, lorsqu’on les attaque, il arrive souvent. . .

    J’attaque donc des gens qui tournent à tout vent ?

    Qu’un moulinet de leurs grands bras chargés de toiles
    Vous lance dans la boue !. . .

    Ou bien dans les étoiles !


    January 31, 2009 at 2:38 pm

  27. Rank Newspaper Weekly Circulation
    1 Toronto Star 3,260,621
    2 The Globe and Mail 2,024,320
    3 Le Journal de Montréal 1,921,652
    4 La Presse (Montreal) 1,524,582
    5 Toronto Sun 1,358,292
    6 National Post 1,236,020
    7 Vancouver Sun 1,030,691
    8 The Gazette (Montreal) 974,021
    9 Ottawa Citizen 919,931
    10 Winnipeg Free Press 885,986

    That’s from wikipedia and the link they provide is dead, so the figures aren’t likely to be exact, but it still gives you a general idea of the print news Canadians read (and presumably trust).


    January 31, 2009 at 2:56 pm

  28. This from “Yes, Prime Minister”:

    “I know exactly who reads the papers: The Daily Mirror is read by people who think they run the country; The Guardian is read by people who think they ought to run the country; The Times is read by people who actually do run the country; The Daily Mail is read by the wives of the people who run the country; The Financial Times is read by people who own the country; The Morning Star is read by people who think the country ought to be run by another country; and The Daily Telegraph is read by people who think it is.”

    Sir Humphrey: “Prime Minister, what about the people who read The Sun?”
    Bernard Woolley: “Sun readers don’t care who runs the country, as long as she’s got big tits.”

    Canadian edition:

    The National Post is read by people who think they run the country; The Toronto Star and the Globe and Mail are read by people who think they ought to run the country, The Washington Post is read by people who actually do run the country, and The Wall Street Journal is read by people who own the country.

    Quebec edition:

    La Presse is read by people who think their country ought to be run by another country, and Le Devoir is read by people who think their country shouldn’t be.


    January 31, 2009 at 3:10 pm

  29. Bruce:

    I enjoyed the article you linked to, but it isn’t fair to say it completely agrees with my point of view. I agree with the writer that the whole event is a bad idea in and of itself, but he doesn’t challenge the whole Plains of Abraham myth. He presents it in a funny way, but he leaves it intact. My main point during that discussion was that English Canada’s notions of the event are largely mythological and that English Canadian society can’t seem to admit it. In my opinion, this article confirms that. Still nice to see someone say what he did, though. Thanks for the link.


    January 31, 2009 at 3:23 pm

  30. GLC,

    Isn’t Le Devoir on there at all? I would have thought it would have come up above The Gazette. I know they have a modest circulation outside of Quebec, but still . . .


    January 31, 2009 at 4:02 pm

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