Marketing global English: A force for unity or division? EMILY RUMMINGS investigates

With the majority of English colonies returned to their indigenous owners, the influence of the language still remains, with more speakers of English as a non-native language in the world, than speakers of English as a native tongue (Park & Wee, 2012, p.43). As the language goes through a natural process of being moulded and changed by its speakers, English fails to serve a single purpose in Anglophone countries, with many simply using it as a lingua franca in trade and industry.

It seems as if English proficiency has the potential to contribute to a country’s development, in a way that connects different countries and enables them to network with the wider world. Coleman (2010) attempted to establish this relationship, as he outlined that English proficiency increases an individual’s employability, enables international communication and collaboration and provides access to research and information. From a neoliberalist perspective, in a globalised world, English education serves the purpose of driving economic transformation and growth which in turn contributes to success on a national level (Brown, Lauder and Ashton, 2008).

According to Gray (2012, p.138) ‘[t]hose languages that may provide their speakers with a competitive edge in the job market’ are sold as a commodity, being promoted in developing countries such as Zambia, Rwanda and Pakistan. English speaking is seen as part of a skill set that employers exchange for wages, with high status languages and language varieties seen as an asset. Since the 1970s three facets of commercial English language, namely the teaching of English, the training of English language teachers and the production and distribution of English language materials such as textbooks, have been expanding and spreading, ‘when the current phase of globalisation may be said to have intensified’ (Gray, 2012, p.140).

Despite the opportunity for there to be a potential global language, it is when we look at case studies of developing countries that we see the issues it has caused. For example, those who live in poorer urban and rural areas in Africa do not have access to quality teaching, with primary education being the only level of education that most receive (Williams, 2011, p167). This creates a divide between those who can afford quality education and those who cannot, separating an elite group of moneyed speakers who are offered better jobs, and creating an inescapable loop and deterministic future for those who cannot afford better education.

Language policies in developing countries such as Rwanda, Pakistan and Zambia have made it obligatory to learn English in primary education, and other subjects taught through the medium of English, but still most African students do not achieve adequate competency, Williams (2011, p.167) describes this as a ‘barrier’ for students’ education, which has a knock on effect on the country as a whole and its development.

Effective education can alleviate poverty, as literacy skill contributes to people getting better jobs. It is advocated that children should be taught using their mother tongue or a language with which they are familiar (Williams, 2011, p.169). This is the case in some sub-Saharan multilingual African countries that use Chichewa as a lingua franca, which shares many similarities with some of the local languages. This arguably offers a solution to a number of problems, as the language used as a common ground does not encode an ‘inferiority complex’ (Serpell 1978, p.432) onto its speakers, or feelings of a country’s language or culture being taken away. It also seems that rates of proficiency are much higher in this language as opposed to English where quality of teaching is lower and creates an economic divide.

Alternatively, Jenkins (2007) proposed the marketing English as a lingua franca (ELF). She assumed that speakers would come from different social and cultural backgrounds, and use English to facilitate the communication of specific information without the intentions of using humour, slang or cultural allusions. Jenkins compiled a list of normative features used in ELF, but it is debateable whether these features should be used as a model for teaching, because although the ELF project helps to market the practical uses of English to non-native speakers, it could leave them underprepared for using English fully in both international and domestic contexts.

Despite there being some proposed solutions, the debate still persists. Is English a language remnant of its imperialistic roots that devalues local languages, cultures and identities, or is it a language that enables free-flowing communication across countries and cultures, uniting people that would and could not otherwise speak to one another?

EMILY RUMMINGS, English Language undergraduate, University of Chester, UK

References

Brown, P., Lauder, H., Ashton, D. (2008). Education, globalisation and the knowledge economy: A commentary by the teaching and learning research programme. London: TLRP.

Coleman, H. (2010). The English Language in Development. London: British Council.

Gray, J. (2012).English: The industry. In A. Hewings, and C. Tagg (Ed.). The Politics of English Conflict, Competition, Co-existence. Worlds of English. (pp. 137-163). Abingdon: Routledge in association with the Open University.

Jenkins, J. (2007). English as a lingua franca: Attitude and identity. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Park, J.S-Y., & Wee, L. (2012). Markets of English: Linguistic capital and language policy in a globalising world. Abingdon: Routledge.

Serpell, R. (1978). Some developments in Zambia since 1971. In S. Ohannessian and M. E. Kashoki (Ed.). Language in Zambia. (pp.424-47). London: International African Institute.

Williams, E. (2011). Language policy, politics and development in Africa. In  A. Hewings and C. Tagg (Ed.). The Politics of English: Conflict, Competition, Co-existence. (pp.165-179). Abingdon: Routledge.

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4 thoughts on “Marketing global English: A force for unity or division? EMILY RUMMINGS investigates

  1. Amy Casley says:

    Hi Emily,

    This is a very informative blog and makes for a very interesting read. I agree with the point that people living in poorer areas of Africa are at a disadvantage, as they cannot access a high quality of teaching. The fact that developing countries, such as Rwanda, have made it obligatory for English to be taught in primary school is surely a positive thing. Despite claims that it is not allowing for them to be adequately competent, surely learning a basic level of English is better than the lack of opportunity to learn any at all? Also, residents of developing African countries may not wish for the teaching of English to be embedded in their education, due to the idea of it impeding their culture. Therefore, teaching English in these developing countries could be seen as problematic in more than one way. I do like how you have included these case studies though, as it helps to back up your argument. You make a good point that potential solutions, such as the ELF, do not appear to be completely practical. Your conclusion proposes a thought provoking question. Since you make valid points for both sides of the argument, it would be interesting to know what your overall opinion is.

  2. Amy Casley says:

    Hi Emily,
    This is a very informative blog and makes for a very interesting read. I agree with the point that people living in poorer areas of Africa are at a disadvantage, as they cannot access a high quality of teaching. The fact that developing countries, such as Rwanda, have made it obligatory for English to be taught in primary school is surely a positive thing. Despite claims that it is not allowing for them to be adequately competent, surely learning a basic level of English is better than the lack of opportunity to learn any at all? Also, residents of developing African countries may not wish for the teaching of English to be embedded in their education, due to the idea of it impeding their culture. Therefore, teaching English in these developing countries could be seen as problematic in more than one way. I do like how you have included these case studies though, as it helps to back up your argument. You make a good point that potential solutions, such as the ELF, do not appear to be completely practical. Your conclusion proposes a thought provoking question. Since you make valid points for both sides of the argument, it would be interesting to know what your overall opinion is.

  3. Beth Freeth says:

    Hi Emily,

    Fantastic blog! I also thought how well you demonstrated each side of the argument.

    I can understand how non-native speakers of English, for example, habitants from Rwanda appear to have negative attitudes towards English as a foreign language (EFL). This is due to the consequences it has had so far upon their country, for example, causing unnecessary ‘barriers’ in education and instigating divides between rich and poor areas. To some extent, I agree with Amy that English can be a threat to other languages as it could be impeding their culture. However, I believe that Jenkins’ (2007) idea of proposing the marketing of English as a Lingua Franca (ELF) could help resolve this problem. Jenkins (2007) states that this would help communication between people who don’t speak the same language and who come from different backgrounds and cultures. Surely, communication between people who use the same language is easier instead of using two separate languages. Even though there is no slang in ELF (Jenkins, 2007), it does not say that in the future slang cannot be incorporated from their own language to demonstrate how their culture has not been completely ignored. Clearly, a lot of money has been invested into EFL, wouldn’t it be such a waste of money if they got rid of English completely?

    Jenkins, J. (2007). English as a lingua franca: Attitude and identity. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

  4. Mike Jones says:

    The best way for someone to learn English is to learn Esperanto first. To read up on this concept, google for “springboard to languages” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8gSAkUOElsg). Also, in compliance with the “springboard” concept, I am creating an Esperanto-based encyclopedic dictionary of Mercan English (http://enciklopedia-vortaro-de-la-merk-angla.weebly.com/)

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