Cultural imperialism or economic gain? British Council language assistant SUNDEEP JANDU examines the consequences of the global promotion of English

Neither of the concepts in the title are morally correct; one suggests manipulating the minds of naïve learners of English while the other implies exploiting them for money. But when the language itself is rooted in a capitalist society, which of these is the most important motive for spreading global English? And do organisations like the British Council actively influence learners’ thinking when teaching them English?

The British Council’s answer to this is that they accept that English has hegemonic influence on the societies in which it is taught but this is due to the prestige and attraction of English and is not portrayed this way intentionally (Coleman, 2011, p.333). From a personal perspective, as a British Council language assistant my intentions weren’t to manipulate the minds of 12-year-old Spanish children to think in a certain way but to enhance their English (although not ignoring my own economic gain for doing so, in the form of a salary).

However, the reason that people learn English in the first place could be because they want to be successful in comparison to others. Gray states that a capitalist society promotes individualism as the key to freedom and success and that this ‘new economic world order’ encourages people to promote themselves in a certain way in the marketplace (2012b, p.95). The marketing of global English promotes and spreads this ideology, because learners buy into the testing and do it for the economic incentive of being paid more and being more competitive in the job market. Gray claims that putting a price on language in this way is a result of neoliberalist ideology whereby language is now sold as a skill in return for wages (2012a, pp.137-138).

On the other hand, Crystal suggests that a common language (i.e. English) is essential so that “an unfavoured linguistic heritage should not lead inevitably to disadvantage” (2003, p. xiii). However, this equality is not being fulfilled because the language skills and qualifications are not economically accessible to everybody.

IELTS (International English Language Testing Systems) and ELT (English Language Teaching) services are worth £3-4 billion year to the British economy, showing the hugely positive impact the language has for Britain (Gray, 2012b, p.97). While this is a great advantage to Britain, it is unfair for the people who contribute to this high figure. In 2012, IELTS charged £125 for English testing which was then converted to the learners’ own currencies, automatically disadvantaging people from a poorer background or from a developing country, as this is expensive (Gray, 2012a, p.156). The British Council admits that this inequality is inevitable in a capitalist economic system (Coleman, 2011 p.333). This means that people from poorer backgrounds are less likely to achieve the qualifications necessary to get a better-paid job and break the cycle of poverty.

 Moreover, in Rwanda, English was made the language of education following a conflict between two ethnic groups (the Hutus and Tutsis). This led to a cut in diplomatic ties with France (due to their involvement) and therefore English replaced French’s presence in education (Gray, 2012a, pp.143-144). The British Council claim that this was a positive outcome because the economic benefits of learning English (better job prospects and higher wages in comparison to non-English speakers) would allow the economy to recuperate after the genocide. This would clearly benefit the British Council economically as well as Rwanda, as the organisation would earn money by training teachers and selling ELT resources (Gray, 2012a, p,145). However, Gray mentions Williams’ opinion that learning through the medium of English would only benefit the elitist families in which the parents already knew English to ensure that the students would be able to understand what they were being taught, again emphasising the inequality among the rich and poor (2012a, p.147).

As regards ‘cultural imperialism’, Gray claims that Rwandan President Kagame has the support of many Western governments, especially because of his willingness to restructure the Rwandan economy along neoliberal lines. This implies that Kagame is willing to adapt to a Westernised economy, thus implying that Rwanda would change their economic ideologies in favour of a British one (2012a, pp.145).

Overall, it seems that economic gain is the motive behind promoting global English, but that this is achieved through cultural imperialism because spreading the Western ideology ‘neoliberalism’ will have long term economic benefits. Promoting English as the key to success and to earning more money means that there is an ever-increasing desire to learn the language to be able to compete with others in the job market. ELT organisations rely on these learners for their vast income, but rely on the Western ideals of individualism and competition to keep attracting learners.

SUNDEEP JANDU, English Language undergraduate, University of Chester, UK

References

Coleman, H. (Ed.) (2011) Dreams and Realities: Developing Countries and the English Language. British Council.

Crystal,D. (2003). English as a global language (2nd ed.).  New York, United States of America: Cambridge University Press.

Gray, J. (2012a). English the industry. In A. Hewings & C. Tagg (Eds.). The Politics of English: Conflict, competition, co-existence (pp.137-163). Abingdon: Routledge. 

Gray, J. (2012b). Neoliberalism, celebrity and aspirational content in English language teaching textbooks for the global market. In D. Block., J. Gray & M. Holborow (Eds.) (2012), Neoliberalism and applied linguistics (pp. 86-113). London, United Kingdom: Routledge

 

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How far can marketing English globally be viewed as ‘cultural imperialism’? EMILY BOLAND reviews the opposing arguments

The global marketing of English and the contribution it makes to maintain the English language’s position as the global lingua franca is a topic that attracts much debate. As highlighted by Schneider (2011, p.213), opinions on the matter are divided, and the UK is either applauded for promoting a language with political and social prestige or held accountable for the deaths of lesser languages and cultures.

Language, as outlined by Graddol (2007, p.257), is the foremost expression of cultural identity. With an increasing number of people opting to learn English, it is plausible that lesser languages and the cultures paired with them may be ignored and eventually even forgotten about, justifying why marketing global English may be viewed as linguistic and cultural imperialism.

In some cases, English is imposed on non-native speakers, as discovered by Boussebaa and Brown in their 2016 study of the French University, FrenchU. In order to increase the number of publications produced in English, FrenchU reportedly began pressuring their French employees to work in English and employed a strict regime to enforce this (Boussebaa and Brown, 2016, p.11). Boussebaa and Brown learnt that many employees felt that they had to discipline themselves to “fit the identity mould” that was being imposed on them (2016, p.18) and stated that this left them feeling as though they were losing their individual French identities, in favour of institutional English identities (2016, p.18). This firmly indicates how the promotion of English can be culturally imperialistic, and, as argued by Boussebaa and Brown, acts as an example of “Englishization”: the creation of a situation where native English speakers gain status whilst non-native speakers consequently lose status (2016, p.16).

Nevertheless, it must be noted that it is not only non-natives who have been affected by the central position of English. As reported by Galloway and Rose, in recent years there has been a reduction in the number of English students opting to study a second language (2015, p.58). With English being an official or co-official language in one third of the world’s countries (Galloway and Rose, 2015, p.54), English people often no longer deem it essential to learn other languages, expecting non-native speakers to conform to the ‘global lingua franca’ instead of having the skill to communicate with them in an alternate language.

With regards to this, however, Johnson makes the point that the decreased number of English people learning a second language has caused the ability in another language to become more special, due to its rareness (2009, p.141). Aptitude in another language is viewed as more valuable for employment, which could potentially encourage ambitious young English people to learn a second language.

Additionally, Johnson offers further positives for the global marketing of English, arguing that, for many non-natives, knowledge of English can be a way of gaining better career and economic prospects (2009, p.133). As Johnson (2009, p.139) highlights, the promotion of English therefore cannot be culturally imperialistic, as people are choosing to learn English, and are not doing so with the intention of ignoring their own culture, but are merely striving for better lives.

Similarly, those promoting English globally are infrequently doing so with the aim of pushing out lesser cultures and languages in favour of English. In most cases, global English is marketed due to the economic benefits it brings the country. ELT textbook production is a multi-million pound industry, which, as Gray (2012, p.97) believes , makes a case for promoting English.

Furthermore, global English is promoted due to the vital role it plays in international communication. Galloway and Rose (2015, p.54) make the point that global English is frequently used as the common language for global political gatherings, greatly aiding international diplomacy and the worldwide economy as a result. Likewise, global English is the official language for air control and helps to reduce issues with transportation industries (Galloway and Rose, 2015, p.55), indicating that there are many benefits to having a global lingua franca and that the promotion of it cannot always be regarded as cultural imperialism.

With regards to this subject, it must be noted that there is no ‘right or wrong’ answer, and that these arguments are only a handful of the views on marketing global English. According to Graddol (2007, p.271), it is likely that English will maintain its position as the global lingua franca – meaning that it is highly likely that further alternative outlooks on marketing global English will emerge.

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

References

Boussebaa, M., & Brown, A. D. (2016). Englishization, identity regulation and imperialism. Organization studies, 38 (1), 7-29.

Galloway, N., & Rose, H. (2015). Introducing Global Englishes. London, United Kingdom: Routledge.

Graddol, D. (2007). “Global English, Global culture?”. In S. Goodman., D. Graddol., & T. Lillis (eds.) (2007), Redesigning English (pp.243-279). London, United Kingdom: Routledge.

Gray, J. (2012). Neoliberalism, celebrity and aspirational content in English language teaching textbooks for the global market. In D. Block., J. Gray & M. Holborow (Eds.) (2012), Neoliberalism and applied linguistics (pp. 86-113). London, United Kingdom: Routledge

Johnson, A. (2009). The rise of English: the language of Globalization in China and the European Union. Macalester International, 22(12), 131-168.

Pennycook, A. (1998). English and the discourses of colonialism. London, United Kingdom: Routledge.

Schneider, E. (2011). English around the world: an introduction. Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press.

Is English essential for success in Rwanda and countries like it? KATIE BROOMHEAD examines the role of the British Council

Have you ever thought of English being seen as a commodity? A market worth over £3 billion? (British council, 2010, p. 8) Or a language which is encouraged to be spoken by those who don’t?  If your answer to these questions is ‘no’, then you will be surprised to learn that this is the way English is spreading across the world today and is becoming a “power in itself”. So-called ‘linguistic imperialism’ can be described as “the intentional destruction of a powerless language by a powerful one” (Spolsky, 2004, p. 79), which is currently happening to smaller languages across the world today. But before putting blame for oppression of minority languages on languages like English, we have to consider why it has reached this state and dig a little deeper into the British Council.

Originally, the British Council was created to almost reinvent Britain after a threat to British prosperity, especially with the great depression in 1929 and the rise of Hitler in 1933. But now the British Council is a worldwide organisation used to promote the English language to those that see it as an opportunity for better lives and a branch to work across the world.

The British Council aim to “create friendly knowledge and understanding between the people of the UK and other countries” (https://www.britishcouncil.org/organisation). Not only do they promote the English language through TEFL courses and studying in the UK, they work with the education system in other countries and arts programmes and culture of the world (British Council).  For them, it is all about the links they create with other countries to make life easier for the UK and international relations. The British Council state “[w]e do this by making a positive contribution to the UK and the countries we work with – changing lives by creating opportunities, building connections and engendering trust” (British Council).

Today, the British Council promote themselves with pictures of people from different nationalities looking happy, the UK countryside and children playing. But is that just a front to mask the profit they make each year from English? The British Council “is a unique semi-state body” (Gray, 2012, p. 141) which is a registered charity and operates as a business (Gray, 2012, p. 141). By operating as a business, a profit is made and in the case of the British Council, their profit is on a rather larger scale. The annual turnover for the 2009/2010 year was £705 million and to put into context of how much that could increase by each year, the profit increased by £60 million from 2008/2009 (Gray, 2010, p. 141).

Although the British Council plays a big role in promoting English, can the governments of countries also be to blame for the rise of English? Well, yes! Governments of certain countries have made the decision to make English their national language over their original language. This means children who have never spoken English before will suddenly start having all their lessons at school in English. Ouane and Glanz state “Africa is the only continent where the majority of children start school using a foreign language” (2010).

A good example of this language change is the African country of Rwanda, where KinyaRwanda was replaced by English in schools (Williams, 2011, p. 165). The main reason behind this cultural modification is the way English is viewed in African countries. They see it as “the first step towards the coveted white-collar job” (Williams, 2011, p. 165) and provides them with opportunities for careers outside their small communities. By choosing English in schools over their country’s indigenous languages, they have potentially chosen to lose their identity and culture to improve their relations with wealthier countries.

A greater understanding of the role of the British Council allows us to consider the need for a lingua franca across the world. This need, which has been filled with English, not only aids communication but also helps businesses, science and technology, society and international relations (Galloway & Heath, 2015, pp. 54-57).  We have to weigh up these advantages and disadvantages to decide if English is the cause of linguistic imperialism.

With all work the British Council do, they realised there was a need for a global lingua franca and helped to fill that gap by promoting English. People will always argue when language changes and, on a scale like this, it can cause global debates. It will be a debate that is always ongoing and there will only ever be opinions for and against English, just like every dispute. But you have to ask yourself, is English really that bad?

KATIE BROOMHEAD, English Language undergraduate, University of Chester, UK

References

British Council. History. 

Galloway, N., & Heath, R. (2015). Introducing global Englishes, London, United Kingdom: Routledge.

Ouane, A. and Glanz, C. (2010). Optimising learning, education and publishing in Africa: The language factor. Hamburg, Germany: UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning. 

Gray, J. (2012). English the industry. In A. Hewings & C. Tagg (Eds.). The Politics of English: Conflict, competition, co-existence (pp.137-163). Abingdon: Routledge.

Spolsky, B. (2004). Language Policy. Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press.

Williams E. (2012). Reading A: Language policy, politics and development in Africa. In A. Hewings & C. Tagg (Eds.). The Politics of English: Conflict, competition, co-existence (pp.164-171). Abingdon: Routledge.

 

Does English hold the key to Rwanda’s development? HARRY CANTRILL investigates

What is so special about the English language? Approximately 1.5 billion people speak English around the world, of which, only 375 million are native speakers (Statista). Why have so many countries adopted English as an official language in the hope that this will provide rapid economic and social development?

Rwanda became independent of Belgium in 1962 and had Kinyarwanda as their native language with French – because of their Belgian roots – being the second language and the language of education. Following a devastating civil war in the early 1990s and the loss of nearly 800,000 people, Rwanda underwent a change in government that saw them change their official second language from French to English in 1996.

President Paul Kagame, a former member of the Rwandan Patriotic Front who seized control of the government following the civil war, received military training from the UK and American forces. This led to the Rwandan government placing a large value on having English skills. Gray (2012, p. 146) states that European languages are seen as a prerequisite to better employment opportunities by many parents. The Rwandan trade and industry minister Vincent Karega said that “English has emerged as a backbone for growth and development not only in the region but around the globe” (McGreal, 2008). Wiping out French from the education system after its long history in the country in favour of English shows evidence of neoliberal values. Neoliberalism is generally seen as the placing of value on things that were never produced as commodities, (Harvey, 2007, p.166). Where you would usually assign a value to a car or a house, under neoliberalism value is additionally assigned to e.g. culture, history and knowledge. Rwanda seems to have placed a very large value on the ‘cultural capital’ of being able to speak English. This is evident in the salary gap between professionals with and without English skills in Rwanda, as shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1.harry

Source: Euromonitor International (2010, p.74)

As you can see, there is a difference of about 20/30%. In a country that does not possess the riches and wealth that Western countries such as America and the UK have, a salary gap that large will have a massive effect on the individual. Gray (2012, p. 145) states that European languages are seen as a prerequisite to better employment opportunities.  This adds weight to the idea that being able to speak English increases opportunities for people in non-native countries.

Williams (2012) argued that in fact the use of foreign languages is hindering the development of African countries. Williams (2012) conducted a study in Rwandan schools to see if the use of English as not only the language children are being taught but also the language of instruction is delivering adequate levels of English proficiency. The results of this study showed that only two out of 251 Year 6 students (0.77 per cent) had achieved adequate levels of English. The findings suggest that the Rwandan government’s implementation of English in classrooms through primary education is severely hindering students’ progression. This may have further implications on the development of the country, as a whole generation of students progress through their education without actually having English skills that are good enough.

This begs the question, is a system that was put in place to develop Rwanda actually having the reverse effect? Would the native language not have been a better alternative? To put this simply, if on the first day of school your teacher only spoke a foreign language to you and all of your lessons were taught in that foreign language would you have coped better than if it was your native language? Personally, I would have been permanently confused. Kinyarwanda is the native tongue in Rwanda. Instead of using English as the mode of instruction in primary education, the native tongue would potentially be more effective as the teachers and students are already fluent. In addition to this, I believe that English should be learnt alongside the use of Kinyarwanda because as demonstrated in Figure 1, English skills do provide people with better prospects later in life. However, the solitary use of English is a missed opportunity for genuine multilingualism, which could eventually mean Kinyarwanda dies out as generations of Rwandans only learnt to speak English.

HARRY CANTRILL, English Language undergraduate, University of Chester, UK

References

Gray, J. (2012). English the industry. In A. Hewings & C. Tagg (Eds.) The Politics of English: Conflict, competition, co-existence (pp.137-163). Abingdon: Routledge.

Harvey, D. (2007). A brief history of Neoliberalism. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

McGreal, C. (2008, October 14). Rwanda to switch from French to English in schools. The Guardian. 

The most spoken languages worldwide. Statista

Williams, E. (2012). Language policy, politics and development in Africa. In A, Hewings & C, Tagg (Eds.) The Politics of English: Conflict, competition, co-existence (pp.164-171). Abingdon: Routledge.

 

 

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.

Testing times: CHARLOTTE GRIMES-THOMAS weighs up the costs of English as a global commodity

According to David Crystal, it is now estimated that 1.5 billion people use English either as a first, second or foreign language (2000, p. 3). With many people speaking the language, it is undeniable that English is powerful and plays an important role in the development of individuals (Coleman, 2010, p. 16). English can be considered as a ‘lingua franca’ – it is the global language of business, academic research, space, scientific discovery, entertainment and diplomacy. English as a Lingua Franca (ELF) can also be a useful contact language, as it allows people who don’t share a common native tongue to communicate (Firth, 1996, p. 240 as cited in Park and Wee, 2012, p. 44). Therefore, learning the language could offer individuals better opportunities in the future if they are able to speak English, whether it is to gain a qualification or being able to speak to someone from a different country. However, is the price tag too high for people who want to learn English?

It seems that English is now being sold as a commodity to people globally. The idea that a language can be sold can be related to neoliberalism, as corporations are putting a price on something that should not be a commodity. Gray explains that neoliberalism ‘is based on the belief that an unfettered market economy is the best guarantor of human freedom and that the role of the government is primarily to guarantee and extend the reach of the market’ (2012, p. 138). Gray concurs with Bourdieu who states that ‘language functions as a form of capital in the modern economy’ (1991, cited by Gray, 2012).

Gray has outlined three areas through which English is being marketed –  English Language Teaching, Testing products and Academic Publishing. Large corporations such as TOEFL are attempting to make profits by selling the English language as a product. They are marketing the language by stating it will provide learners with better prospects and opportunities. These testing companies usually have a high price tag, for example TOEFL charge $160 to $235 just for registration. Due to these high fees, many learners are unable to afford the test; so it can be argued that corporations are using English as a commodity. English is also marketed globally through academic publishing. The Department for Business Innovations & Skills estimated the UK education exports in 2008 and 2009 to be £14.1 billion (2011). It has been found that 3.7 million English books have been sent to Africa (Books for Africa, 2013), even though some of these countries do not have many English speakers. It is apparent that just through testing products and academic publishing alone, the English language is being marketed on a substantial global scale.

Following the mass genocide in Rwanda, relations deteriorated between the Rwandan government and France. The Rwandan government severed ties with France and as a result President Kagame named English the language of education in 2008. Due to the prestige status of English, many Rwandans welcomed the language and believed it would eventually help the next generation acquire better jobs and a higher wage (Gray, 2012, p. 146). For instance, a receptionist that cannot speak English will only earn $110 per month, in comparison to $310 if they were able to speak English. Olzacki also trusts that the move to English was correct as it is ‘preparing Rwanda’s children to perform global work, increase capacity and embrace business alliances as an equal partner and desired commodity. If French had remained the language of instruction, […] this would prevent future success’ (2015). However, the influence of English isn’t completely progressive. There have been negative aspects, such as social and political ramifications following the deterioration in relations between France and Rwanda. It has also alleged that out of the 31,000 primary school teachers, only 4,700 have been trained to teach English in Rwanda (McGreal, 2009,  cited in Polonski, Teferra & Brady, 2013). Due to the lack of adequate teachers, only half of the children move past primary school.

As a result of the globalisation of English, there is no doubt that language is now a commodity. It is evident that the marketing of the English Language has its distinct pros and cons. I believe that neither outweighs the other. It is just an inevitability that we have to accept, as everything these days has a price tag attached.

CHARLOTTE GRIMES-THOMAS, English Language undergraduate, University of Chester, UK

References

Crystal, D. (2000). Emerging Englishes. English teaching professional. Retrieved January 18, 2016.

Coleman, H. (2010). The English Language in Development. Retrieved January 26th, 2016

Department of Business Innovations & Skills. (2011). Estimating the Value to the UK of Education Exports, BIS research paper 46. Retrieved January 22, 2016.

Gray, J. (2012), English the industry. In: A. Hewings and C. Tagg (ed.) The Politics of English: Conflict, Competition, Co-existence. Oxon: Routledge, pp. 139-163.

Olzacki, J. (2015). Why Rwanda’s move to English? Retrieved January 21, 2016.

Park, J. S., & Wee, L. (2012). Is there a market for English as a Lingua Franca? London: Routledge.

Plonski, P., Teferra, A., & Brady, R. (2013). Why Are More African Countries Adopting English as an Official Language? Retrieved January 22, 2016.

HANNAH ASHWELL considers whether global English is creating harmony or hindering the wider world

There is no doubt that the English language has become what Gray describes as a ‘power in itself’ further claiming that ‘English in this way [is] somehow agentive […] [seen as a] powerful [force] propelled by human agents acting on behalf of commercial and governmental organisations […] actively involved in promoting and sustaining the position of English in the world.’ (2012: 162) However the jury’s out as to whether this promotion of English across the world is to aide underdeveloped countries, such as that of post-genocide Rwanda or, alternatively use the promotion of English by ELT organisations as a way of continuing to propel the aims ‘of a multi- billion pound industry’ (Gray, 2012, p.162).

Looking firstly at the British Council ‘a unique semi-state body […] government funded […] [and] a registered charity’ we can see examples of how English is conveyed as helping countries in crisis back on their feet. For example, the annual report of 2009-10 highlights help given to Afghanistan by facilitating ‘10,000 English teachers develop […] skills’ (Gray, 2012, p.141), as well as ‘helping President Kagame’s country, Rwanda, to replace French with English as the medium of Education’ (Gray, 2012, p.142). However,  how far can it be claimed that this aide is for the best interests of these countries?

As well as performing the role of a charity, the British Council also ‘functions as a business’ (Gray, 2012,p. 141), and as a result it seems fair to question how far this is a priority for the organisation. In helping President Kagame to establish English as the language of education are they really helping rebuild his country? I would argue that there is some validity to the idea that it is impinging on Rwanda culture. Williams advocates this idea by referring to ‘a small dominant establishment in African countries [which] ensures that they […] have access to high standards of English while inadequate education systems mean that this is largely denied to the majority, [known as the process highlighted by] ‘Myers-Scotton (1990) [as] ‘[e]lite closure’(2011, pp 166- 167). In this way is the ELT industry prioritising our economy over the human needs of poorer, undeveloped countries?

As a result of selling English as a commodity it serves to devalue some countries over others. According to Gray (2012, p.138),  ‘Canadian scholar Monica Heller (2002) suggests, languages and language learning are […] viewed in largely economic terms […] [meaning] some languages come to be seen as worth more than others.’ Consequently the English language displays disadvantages which serve to hinder other countries cultures. This is highlighted by writer Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o in 1986 when recounting his experiences of English as the language of education in Africa. He said that ‘[l]iterary education was now determined by the dominant language […] language and literature were taking us further […] from ourselves […], from our world’ (cited in Jenkins, 2009, p. 194). And so English can be seen to be hindering undeveloped countries cultures in this sense.

In more recent times the growth of the ELT industry has led to features of ‘cultural imperialism’ being associated with it, in the respect that as it is viewed as a cultural commodity that dominates much like that of the film and music industry. Advertisements for ELT organisations take advantage of this link incorporating ideas associated with a westernised celebrity culture, with ELT textbooks often adopting celebrity related discourses, known as ‘aspirational content […] [focusing] largely on spectacular and personal […] success, celebrity lifestyles, cosmopolitanism and travel’ (Gray, 2012, p. 87). And so they sell English not only as a skill but as an opportunity to gain a successful way of life, to ‘younger people […] [seeing] it [as] increasingly valuable for personal growth.’ (ICEF, 2015) This is irrespective of where these young students come from; does this not hinder the development and sustainability of other cultures?

I can acknowledge that English does have its advantages in holding the position of lingua franca for the world and being the language of education, in the sense that it unifies to a degree and helps advance the chances of less developed countries and their education systems. Ultimately however these benefits are outweighed by the lack of access to acquire English as a skill across all levels of societies, creating elite groups. As well as this, the current highly commercialised nature of the ELT industry leads me to question who the real winners are here. Are we not impinging on other cultures by selling our own? And is the English as a commodity highlighting that the priority is profit over providing proper aide? The debate continues…

HANNAH ASHWELL, English Language undergraduate, University of Chester, UK

References

Gray, J. (2012), English the industry. In: A. Hewings and C. Tagg (ed.) The Politics of English: Conflict, Competition, Co-existence. Oxon: Routledge, pp. 139-163.

Gray, J. (2012), “Neolibralism, Celebrity and ‘Aspirational Content’ in English textbooks for the global market” from Block, David, Gray, John and Marnie Holborow, Neoliberalism and applied linguistics. London: Routledge, pp. 86- 113.

ICEF. (2015). The Brazilian market for English language learning. Retrieved February 16, 2016.

Jenkins, J. (2009). World Englishes: A Resource Book for Students. (2nd ed). Routledge English Language Introductions. London: Routledge.