Monday, October 18, 2010

"English Next" - David Graddol

Well, this was interesting.

It's freely downloadable (duh!) and was suggested background reading prior to starting my next OU course, Exploring the English Language.

It was a brief examination of how the English language has developed as a world language through history, and a suggestion as to how things may develop in the next few years. Graddol argues that we may be at a unique point in history. In the past, English was, to a degree, regarded as the language of "civilised discourse" - particularly by those who wrote its history - ie. largely English-speaking intellectuals. This forced most non-English-first-language people into the role of the "outgroup", since the process of language learning marks native speakers out as the "gold standard", and regardless of whether people were "selected" to speak English or sought to learn, they would always be likely to be distinctively worse at the language then a native speaker.

Various things have led to this changing. The widespread adoption of English as a second language, or in some cases even the use of English as the principle language of education even at secondary level, means that we are currently seeing non-native English speakers of all ages from primary school upwards being taught English - there are possibly as many as 2 billion English learners around the world. China alone produces 20 million more English speakers each year!

Such an explosion lies well beyond the ability of the traditional EFL or ESOL system to support. As a consequence, English is being taught increasingly by non-native speakers. Further, once English is largely known worldwide, spoken increasingly in homes and educational institutions and so on, the demand for English teaching will rapidly be transformed - the need will be for people who can teach English to small children, rather than adults, and as remedial tuition, rather than to the brightest and most ambitious.

The coming era will also be marked by ability in English not being related to accuracy according to native English standards, but by competencies in areas of relevance to the user. The privileged position of the native speaker will thus slip away. Furthermore, as the world population becomes more plurilingual (to use the Euro-in-phrase), it will become harder and more expensive for native English speakers to learn and become competent in other languages, which will (although Graddol didn't labour this point) make them likely to be regarded as the "backward" ones in the new world linguistic order.

Thought-provoking. I'm looking forward to this course ....

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