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
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.
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.