The English language is of significant importance around the globe. Graddol states that “English is seen in many countries, at an individual, institutional or national level, as representing the key to economic opportunity” (2007, p. 258). English is continuing to spread, in part through promotion by organisations such as the British Council. In previous historical periods English has not always been so positively encouraged. The language has been previously forced onto other cultures under the justification of it being superior and more civilised. What damage has this done? The negative enforcement of the language and more modern encouragement create a difficult contrast. With this in mind, is the demonisation of global English justified?
The British Council “is the UK’s international organisation for cultural relations and educational opportunities […] – changing lives by creating opportunities, building connections and engendering trust” (British Council). The organisation plays an important role in encouraging the learning of English across the globe. In their annual report for 2016/17 they state that the organisation “engaged directly with 65 million people” (p. 6), so they evidently have a wide spread of influence. The British Council organise events such as Shakespeare Lives, the promotion of which involved Sir Ian McKellen visiting China for the event. They claim that the “[s]ocial media content reached 12.5 million people” (2017, p. 12). No doubt the celebrity presence would have contributed to this. These large figures show the extent of the influence the British Council has through social media alone. A significant part of their reasoning for encouraging the learning of English as a second language is that it is a skill that can increase career prospects. The organisation highlights that “English is essential if you want to get ahead in today’s fast-paced global economy” and that with the British Council, “the chances of success are much higher” (British Council). However, it raises the question of what is the benefit for the British Council? The organisation publishes their financial figures in their annual report, showing that the business side to the organisation is significant in their operations. For the year 2016/17 “[t]he British Council achieved almost ten per cent growth in total income to £1,076.9 million” (2017, p. 54). This shows that the expansion of the organisation and English language teaching (ELT) across the globe does ultimately provide a large financial gain. Whether the benefit to the organisation outweighs the good it brings to individuals is not certain.
The English language has not always been so positively presented to other cultures. Issues of English being forced onto populations where English was not the indigenous language cannot be overlooked. For example, according to Martin (2012, p. 249), “[t]hroughout the American colonial period, [American] English was systematically promoted as the language that would ‘civilize’ the Filipinos”. ELT was enforced on the basis that English was essential for learning other subjects. Martin claims that an argument used to justify the enforcement of English is that “English proficiency is critical in learning as other key subjects such as Science and Mathematics use English in textbooks and other reference materials” (2012, p. 258). This suggests that American English was viewed as superior to the Filipino languages and in order to maintain it, falsities were fabricated. This was incredibly detrimental to children in the education system at this time, as they were having to learn all subjects in English which was not their first language. English was, and continues to be presented as a means to guarantee success in order “[t]o be sure, a good command of English is beneficial in employment situations where the language is used. However, language proficiency alone may not ensure economic success.” (p. 256). This idea of learning English, whether it be American English or another variety, as a guarantee of work appears more as a justification for ELT rather than a benefit to those learning English. This also raises the question of whether having English as a skill can truly guarantee better employment opportunities.
It is easy to see why the global spread of the English language is demonised when it is forced onto other populations such as the Filipinos. The current promotion techniques used by the British Council may be harder to categorise. Ultimately the British Council has a high financial gain from ELT and it has a significant influence in countries around the world. However, the organisation could potentially change lives to an extent as learning the English language could increase career opportunities. Is the demonisation of global English justified? This depends on perspective as it can have benefits and be detrimental to other cultures.
HOLLY ROYLE, English Language undergraduate, University of Chester, UK
Martin, I. P. (2012). Periphery ELT: The politics and practice of teaching English in the Philippines. In A. Kirkpatrick (Ed) The Routledge handbook of world Englishes (pp. 247-264). Abingdon & New York: Routledge.