English loses its hold on a multilingual world

Modern language specialists at the conference were buoyed by predictions from a leading languages academic that the role of English as a key global language may not be the barrier against take-up of other languages that many assume.

David Graddol of the Open University, author of a major survey for the British Council entitled The Future of English?, said English native speakers as a proportion of the world population would decline from 9 per cent in 1950 to 5 per cent by 2050.

Chinese speakers constitute by far the largest group already, he said, and in 50 years time, Arabic, Spanish and Hindi-Urdu will each have roughly the same number of native speakers as English.

The idea that global technology and the Internet would reinforce the dominance of English was a myth. Non-English speakers are an increasing proportion of Internet users and the information available in other languages, particularly German, Japanese and Spanish, was growing fast.

If the UK does not improve its language capability, "the Brits are likely to end up monolingual in a world which is becoming increasingly multilingual".

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