We all know that the English language has a global impact and many people have heard of the British Council, but what is their connection? What impact has the English language had where English is not the indigenous language and what is the role of the British Council?
The British Council is an international organisation with many aims including the promotion of English language education all around the world. They claim to work with over 100 countries, reach over 65 million people directly and even more through the media and publications. They have some charitable status, however they earn over 75% of their annual turnover from services which customers pay for, and less than 25% of their turnover comes from government grants.
The British Council advertises the English language as a product for sale that will make people’s lives better and give them freedom. Many countries in Africa have introduced English as the language of education with the hope of improving the economy and gain advantage of business opportunities. The most recent example is Rwanda, where following devastating civil war and major political upheaval, in 2009 legislation was introduced to anglicise Rwanda. In other countries where there was no common language – for example, in Nigeria – English was introduced as the language of unification. It was not the case in Rwanda where they already had a common language called Kinyarwanda. They introduced English in the hope of development, but they haven’t achieved the expected outcome. Africa is the only continent where the majority of children start school in a foreign language.
Williams (2012) explored the consequences of changing the language of education from Kinyarwandan to English arguing that this language policy contributes to the lack of development and questioning the presence of ‘effective’ education. I have interviewed two people from Nigeria asking them about their native languages and the impact of the English language on their culture. They told me that they can still understand their indigenous language but they can’t speak it anymore as in education and in the workplace only English is used. They expressed their concerns that in one or two generations their indigineous language will disappear and they will permanently lose important parts of their culture and identity. They claimed, that they already have significantly less knowledge about their own culture than their grandparents do, but they also consider speaking English a passport to freedom, and for them personally, speaking English gave the opportunity to study in the UK.
Most of the highest ranking universities of the world are in English speaking countries and English is currently the lingua franca of academia. Students who come to the UK, from all around the world, contribute about £2 billion a year to the economy, through tuition fees and by living here while they form relationships with people and organisations which will continue when they receive leadership positions in their countries. It creates trading opportunities between countries, an easier environment in which the UK can do business, and boosts the English teaching industry, with most of the earning going directly to the UK. It is not a coincidence that from all the world’s ‘Englishes’ British Council promotes British English as the original and natural English from the country with the longest English speaking history. Teaching British English encourages people to visit and study in the UK, although, by now non-native speakers far outnumber native speakers. With regards to the number of people who speak English globally, I would like to point out an interesting thought mentioned in The English Effect published by the British Council. It explores the disadvantage caused by English language becoming a global language, i.e. that “the real casualty from the global spread of English may actually be the native speaker: The rest of the world will have access to everything s/he does, but s/he will have access to little or nothing beyond the edges of his own tongue.” They urge English native speakers to learn a second language in order to keep the linguistic leverage.
Although, the idea of living in a world where everyone can understand each other seems very alluring, with the promise of development, employability, education, freedom, economy and business, speaking English in a country where it is not the indigenous language can erase national identity, decimate the culture, and with ineffective education techniques, slow down development.
BRIGITTA KOVACS, English Language undergraduate, University of Chester, UK