Posts Tagged ‘global 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

Pauline Marois’ Quiet English Revolution

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In 1988, just before South Africa’s Apartheid regime was about to expire its last foul breath, an antiapartheid organization called the South African Council for Higher Education put out a small comic book designed to help young black children to learn English.  The book was immediately banned by the all-white ruling minority.

Were blacks forbidden to learn English under Apartheid?  Quite the contrary.  English and Afrikaans, the languages of the white minority, were the sole official languages of South Africa in those days while the languages spoken by the black majority had no legal status.  English and Afrikaans were the languages of government, public services and of secondary education, even for blacks.

The novel on which the comic book was based, Down Second Avenue by the exiled South African writer Ezekial Mphahlele, had been freely available in South Africa for three decades.  Even the comic book version of the author’s account of his youth in violent and racist Pretoria had been published before.

Why was the government scared of this edition?  Because it was a textbook.  Because it was a tool designed to get young black kids to reflect on injustice and racism, in their master’s language…

Young blacks were taught English during Apartheid, but they were taught using textbooks from England about white preppy boys in London.  Books that perpetuated the image of English as the language of power, and the corollary, that power rightfully belonged to the English.  Their reality: black, multilingual and poor was foreign.  Defective.

Down Second Avenue: The comic turned that on its head.  It taught Blacks the language of power so they could use it to discuss their reality and to empower themselves.  They could even use English, as other textbooks eventually did, to teach you black kids about the multilingual reality of Africa and the importance of protecting and empowering African languages.

This is where Pauline Marois comes in.

Ignoring the extremely violent opposition from a certain wing of the Parti Québécois and the even more hysterical cries of madness from the Federalist A-list – who seem to share a belief that almighty English will destroy Québec and must at all costs be kept out of the hands of common people – this week Pauline Marois once again proposed that certain classes in Québec high schools, perhaps history, geography or even math, be taught in English.

This is (almost) a brilliant idea.

Parents have been demanding better English classes and immersion and this is a very positive step, especially for families in the regions who don’t have as much exposure to English as Montrealers.

But Pauline Marois’ truly revolutionary idea, which is also the most controversial, is her twice repeated suggestion that History, be thought in English.  Her not-so-great idea is to teach math in English.

Why is it a good idea to teach History in the international language of science and not math? Precisely because we would spontaneously have it the other way around.

Currently, History is taught in French.  French becomes the language of the past, of our heritage, of the Plains of Abraham defeat and the failed referendums.  English on the other hand is taught as a second language necessary for travel, technology, modernity and international fraternity (as it is always naively portrayed in US and Western-made textbooks).

With Marois’ proposal, English would become the language used to explore the past of French-Canadians, but also their successes, the Quiet Revolution and the ongoing struggle to protect French-language culture in North America.  Geography class would become a place to discuss, in English, the linguistic and cultural diversity of planet Earth and the international vitality of the Francophonie, a language that as never had more speakers than it has today.

All this without threatening the overall predominance of the language of Joseph-Armand Bombardier in all other subjects, including the all important sciences.

Teaching History in English would significantly improve the access of Québec kids to English without making them captive of the stereotype that reduces French to the status of heritage language while making English the only language of the modern world outside.

The South African comic book simultaneously helped blacks learn the language of power, but also exposed how that language was a tool of their oppression.  In the same way, teaching History and geography in English would give Québec kids access to the international language of business and scholarship, but also some perspective on where Québec belongs in this global multilingual world.

Enough perspective to ask questions like:

If English really is the magic amulet that automatically opens the doors of modernity, technology and wealth, then why aren’t the Philippines the richest country in Asia?  And why isn’t Japan the poorest?

Discuss.  In English.

Written by angryfrenchguy

November 24, 2008 at 12:10 am

English Country Converts to Spanish

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You’d think they had it all: beaches, calypso and English.

Think again.

Trinidad and Tobago wants the entire country to learn Spanish by 2020.If the government did not take this step, to ensure our nationals are not left behind this global trend of bi-lingualism, our nationals would not be competitive in the global marketplaces of tomorrow“, reads the website of the The Secretariat for The Implementation of Spanish.

Latin America is expected to be one of the booming economies of the next century. Demographically Spanish is on the rise all over the continent(s), including in the United States where Hispanics are now the most important minority. Brazil requires all schools to offer Spanish classes and encourages students to pick it as a second language instead of English.

The capital of Trinidad and Tobago, Port of Spain, is actively campaigning to be the seat of the
Free Trade Area of the Americas. The challenger is Miami, the unofficial capital of the Hispanic USA.

Should French and English-Canadians still spend all their resources on learning each others languages or is not time for us to learn our own continent’s common language?


Written by angryfrenchguy

June 10, 2008 at 9:53 pm