Posts Tagged ‘english

Is the English Language Bubble About to Burst?

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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

The Definitive Guide to Switching Between French and English in Québec

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bilingual Montreal

At the Dépanneur, the Caisse Populaire and waiting in line at the SAAQ

In business situations, there is one rule and it is the same as anywhere else in the world:  The customer is always right.

The Good Faith Clause:  For months I had to visit the Royal Victoria Hospital twice a week to se a physiotherapist and an occupational therapist.  Both were English-speaking.  The Ocupational therapist always greeted me in French, apologized profusely for not speaking it better, and tried really hard.  The physio greeted me in English and made no effort to find out my preference.  I eventually asked the Occupational Therapist if we could speak English.  She had been very respectful and made a sincere effort but my English was better than her French and we mutually agreed that the communication would be easier in English.  Because the physio never made an effort, neither did I.  I only spoke French with her and she eventually had to deal with it.

At the Yacht club, Bingo and your local chapter of the Bilderberg group

When speaking to Montreal Anglos in social situations, I always speak French.  The Anglo usually responds in one of three ways:

French: The Anglo answers in fluent French and that’s that.

Franglais: The Anglo responds in a half French/half English bastard tongue.  I can understand him/her, so it’s cool.  I, however, stick with French.  Franglais is great for Hip Hop lyrics but I have no inclination to trade my ability to converse in two of the world’s greatest international language for the regional creole of Federal government secretaries.

English:  My fellow conversationalist answers in English, I respond in French, he continues in English.  We both understand each other, we are both speaking the language of our choice.  All is good.

The rules above are exactly the same for Anglo-Québécois addressing Francophones.

How to avoid being labelled a Maudit Anglais if you don’t speak French

French-speaker in Québec have very high expectation for their Anglo neighbors.  They’ve been telling us they are fluently bilingual for three decades now and, get this, we believe them.  That is why some visitors to Montreal and Québec sometimes faced with an aggressive response when speaking English.  To avoid this use accents and dress like a tourist.  If you can pull off a British or Australian accent people will not expect you to be able to speak French.

Sri Lankans, Philipinos, Canadians and other Immigrants

There are two schools of thought concerning the proper way to communicate with our new countrymen and women.

The pseudo-cosmopolitans: They believe that everyone who is not from Québec speaks English and that they are ‘helping’ immigrants by communicating with them in English.  This school of thought is very widespread in Québec City and other places that have little to no contact with actual immigrants.

The AngryFrenchGuys: We assume immigrants are just like real people and would appreciate to understand the social conventions of their new home as soon as possible, therefore we only speak French with them.

The Switch

English-speaking visitors to Québec frustrated by the Switch – the habit of Francophones of switching to English as soon as they hear the slightest hint of an accent your speech – should refer to the rules above.  The Francophone can switch to English if he wants to, but who is forcing YOU to switch with him or her?  Just keep on speaking French!  That or pretend to be a German tourist.

These are the rules.  Put them on the fridge.  Carry them in your wallet.  Now you know.

Written by angryfrenchguy

January 4, 2009 at 6:05 pm

Knowledge is Power. English is Not.

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In English-speaking societies the polite, or the correct, thing to say is that learning more than one language is a good thing. Learning languages is an enriching experience, it opens cultural horizons, facilitates travel and generally separates the good Anglos from the stereotypical Ugly Americans.

Multilingual Anglophones realize the personal benefits of languages such as career opportunities and the satisfaction of traveling without the constant impression that someone is talking behind your back, but the conventional wisdom in the English-speaking world is still very much that even though speaking many languages is nice, the only language you actually need, pretty much any where in the world, is English.

Learning foreign languages is perceived as a good thing in Anglodia in the same way charity, peacekeeping and volunteering are considered good things. A graceful gesture towards the less fortunate. A reasonable accommodation.

There is one fact, however, that hasn’t yet reached consciousness in societies where English is the first language:

In an English-speaking world, uniligual English-speakers are fucked.

Today, the world speaks English. That is a fact. But the world hasn’t stopped speaking other languages. That is also a fact.

You see, English as an international language is like a two way mirror. The whole world can see/read/understand English, but unilingual Anglos are stuck on the other side, unable to look out. They understand what we chose to say in English, but as soon as we switch to our other languages, they are locked out.

They, on the other hand, have nowhere to hide…

This is a serious disadvantage. Take the example of radical Islam. Radical clerics have made some very real inroads in the West, notably in poor urban areas and American jails because they can proselytize in English. On the other hand the CIA, Scotland Yard and the other Western agencies fighting terrorism candidly admit they don’t have enough translators to go through the Internet discussion groups where terrorists plan their attacks, in Arabic, Farsi, or other languages.

Or take scholarship. All the research and science coming out of the world’s universities and corporations is published in English. That means that nearly all the scientists and administrators in the world can access, understand and use that information directly, without any help from anyone.

On the other hand if an Indian scientist makes an important discovery – say, the nuclear energy field – that could be strategically important for India, it is much easier for him to control the circulation of that information by discussing it with his colleagues only in Hindi, or if his findings are really hot, he can write all his papers in the regional dialect of his youth in Arunachal Pradesh.

Sure, translation is possible. It is also costly, time-consuming and totally dependent on other people. And you also have too know there is information you are looking for in the first place.

The near universality of English in universities and science has often been accused of being a vicious circle that unfairly advantages native English-speakers, but the the exact opposite is probably closer to the truth.

In his book English as a Global Language, linguist David Crystal points out that the British are by far the least competent in languages of all Europeans with only 29% of executives able to conduct negotiations in a language other than English. He cites studies that show that one in three British company has reported losing business because of poor language skills.

Business executives in France and Germany have also read those studies and you can bet they have taken note of this advantage they have over the British.

Anglo culture -American, British and the rest- was enriched beyond reason by letting so many cultural influences into it’s own world, usually through the English language. This great advantage, however, is slowly turning into a disadvantage as we, the entire planet, can now access the whole of English Language culture, from Seinfeld to Radiohead to lectures by Noam Chomsky to Alan Greenspan’s autobiography as if it were our own, while monoglot English-speakers can only access what we decide to share with them.

Knowledge is power. Who’s got the power now?

And if you are still not convinced that speaking only English will make you the laughing-stock of the globalized world, just click HERE. Ne cliquez pas sur le lien si vous parlez français, c’est seulement pour rire des Anglais.

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Written by angryfrenchguy

June 8, 2008 at 5:01 pm

I’m just a typical English-speaker

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Chinese English

I’m an average English-speaker, typical of English-speakers worldwide.

I use English everyday. I use it for work, I use it for fun. I use it to look for stuff on the internet, to read books, to watch films and television. I use it to read my ipod’s instruction manual. I use it on the street with German tourists looking for “the underground city”.

I use English all the time, yet, English is not my language. I’ve never been to school in English. I never ever use it when I’m a consumer with money to spend in Montreal. I never use it to communicate with my government. My newspaper is not in English. The music I prefer is not in English. I’ve never used it with my father or my mother.

English-speaking is not what I am, it’s something I do. I’m more a speaker of English than an English-speaker. A user of English, really.

Today, we, the users of English, are much more numerous than native English-speakers. Estimates vary, but native English-speakers number between 329 million and 500 million. There are at least three times as many of us who use English as a second (or third, or fourth) language.

Native speakers haven’t realized this yet, but we are no longer speaking their English, they are speaking ours.

Awed by the fantastic success of English as the global Lingua Franca of business, diplomacy and scholarship, many did not notice that English was simultaneously losing ground in absolute numbers. While a generation ago English was the second most widely spoken first language after Chinese, it is now tied with Spanish and Hindi-Urdu. Arabic, the fastest growing language in the world today, is catching up fast.

This does not mean that English will eventually lose it’s Lingua Franca status. It means that it is us, the users of English, speakers of English AND other languages who will make that call.

Globalization is not colonization. It is no longer the benevolent British and Americans who are teaching us the white man’s language, but ourselves, teaching ourselves. China made English mandatory in primary schools in 2001. China produces 20 million English-speakers a year. That’s the equivalent of one Australia or one English-Canada every year!

China invested massively in English but it is not converting to English. Chinese schoolchildren are still learning Mandarin. Mandarin AND English. The Chinese government is also encouraging foreigners to learn Mandarin trough the Confucius Institutes, the Chinese version of the British Council or the Alliance Française.

Global English is bigger than any one country or organization, but if any political entity in the world can influence significantly the future of the language today it is not London, Washington or the UN. It is Beijing.

And the new Chinese users of English, like the rest of us, don’t have any strong emotional attachment to the language or the Anglo-Saxon culture.

It’s been a while since Rupert Murdoch was the only man able to uses his satellites to carpet bomb the planet with Baywatch reruns and Rambo movies. Today Al-Jazeera has a 24 hour English language news network broadcasting out of Qatar. So do China, Russia, Iran, France, Germany, Singapore and Egypt. Christ, even Kim-Jong Il has an English-language website. Now, with the exception of Singapore, there is no significant trend toward the adoption of English as a first language in any of these countries. English is just the language these countries use to speak to the rest of the world

We record pop albums in English, make action movies in English and video games in English. What we do in English is not an American product, though. Actually it’s not even for the Anglo market. Disney makes most of it’s profit outside the USA and so do we.

According to the World Tourism Organization three quarters of international travel is now between non-English-speaking countries. We users of English use the language to get on planes, find hotel rooms and negotiate cab fares, but also to learn about our hosts culture and to express our own. Cultures that are not American, British or Anglo-Saxon

Today the world speaks English. But it is not English-speaking. The vast majority of English-speakers speak more than one language. It’s just one part of our communication toolbox. We use English for instantaneous real-time communication with people around the world who’s language we don’t speak.

Some say it’s a whole new language. A lightweight high performance version of English stripped of its unnecessary cultural baggage. A grammatical frame on which engineers, financiers and bobble head collectors hang the vocabulary of their trade. Not a simplistic or partial English. Just the English we need. Some of us will use English all our lives and yet will never read Norman Mailer or get The Office. Less than perfect fluency is not a handicap.

In fact the truly disadvantaged in this new global code-switching world are those insular unilingual native English-speakers with their hard to understand olde Englishe of yore…

Written by angryfrenchguy

June 1, 2008 at 9:47 pm

Why French is still in danger in Montreal

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Today we learn in La Presse that the Québec government has been sitting on another study on the decline of French in Montreal (or in google English). This time the study is about the language of work in the city. This comes about one week after the revelation that the government was holding back on another study on the demographic weight of Francophones in Montreal.

By and large, English-speaking Montreal was astonished to discover that Francophones still felt that their language and culture was threatened in the city.

Preposterous! More agitation from those darn separatist! All the signs are in French and all the immigrant kids have to go to French school thanks to that bill 101 that English-speakers had reluctantly learned to live with. Nearly everyone in Montreal is bilingual and the income gap between French and English has vanished. How could Francophones conceivably think their language and culture was in danger?

Here’s why, Tim Horton, these trends threaten not only French in Montreal, but even the bilingual character of the city:

The First Generation

In 2008 49 000 new immigrants will arrive in Québec and over 75% of them will head to Montreal.

When he gets here the new immigrant will learn that his engineering and business diplomas are not recognized in Québec and that he’s going to have to work in a factory.

At the factory he will have about a 50/50 chance of working in French (40,1%) or English (38,9%) even though the Charter of the French Language has made French the official language of the workplace 30 years ago.

At work he will quickly understand that immigrants who learn only English earn an average of 27 216$ a year while those who only learn French earn 21 233$ a year. If he is one of the growing number of immigrants who already knows French when they arrive, these numbers will tell him he also has to learn English. If he doesn’t speak French these numbers aren’t telling him he should.

Anyway, it won’t be long before he figures out that even old school Montrealers who don’t speak a word of French earn 34 097$ a year compared to 29 665$ for unilingual Francophones. (CD Howe numbers)

On his way to the better and wealthier life he left his country and family for, the new Montrealer will also learn that although over 80% of Québec’s population is French-speaking, in 1996 they counted for only 35% of the upper management in companies that had more than 1000 employees.

He will also understand that in wealthy neighborhoods like Westmount, 75% of the population is English-speaking.

The Second Generation

For that reason he will prefer that his kids attend English schools. If he can afford it, he will send them to a private school. If not, he will strongly encourage them to go to an English Language CEGEP and University. At this university his kids will develop his more durable social and professional networks.

Although able to speak French and English, this immigrant’s son will live and work in an English environment and feel he is part of Montreal’s English-speaking community. His relations with French-speakers will be cordial, but their preoccupations and culture won’t be his own.

He will not notice the absence of French language services in downtown Montreal because he will be just as likely to speak English in the shops himself. The exodus of Francophones who are increasingly frustrated not to be able to work and shop in French in Montreal will not affect him because his friends and colleagues are Anglophones.

The Third Generation

The girl he will get married is also more likely to be an Anglophone. A cute girl from Regina he will meet at McGill University, perhaps. Because she went to English schools in Canada, they will be able to sent their children to English-language public schools in Montreal.  And these children will grow up to be even less bilingual than their father.

Written by angryfrenchguy

February 7, 2008 at 1:48 pm

Get you own national anthem!

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One of the Sun newspapers recently published an editorial suggesting that one of the french lyric’s to Canada’s national anthem be removed. The phrase in question: “Il sait porté la croix..” would be to Christian and not respectful of Canada’s religious diversity.

O Canada, a composition of Calixa Lavallé, was performed for the first time publicly in Québec City at an international convention of French-Canadians from the US and Canada in 1880. This was to be the anthem of French-Canadians, not of those blokes who still fancied themselves British citizens and sang God save the king with a tear in their eye. The english words are a version, not a a translation of the original song.

I agree with the Sun. If Canadians are not comfortable with O Canada anymore they should change the National anthem. They should get their own.

Written by angryfrenchguy

October 1, 2007 at 2:23 am