Prince Charles is to play the role of protector of the Queen's English as part of a British Council initiative to promote the teaching of "British" English overseas.
The council, which has launched a scheme called English 2000, wants to stave off competition for teaching products from other countries such as the United States and Australia. The project will analyse the links between the promotion of English teaching abroad and commercial advantages to the country as a whole. The direct benefit to Britain through the sale of English language teaching goods and services is valued at about Pounds 500 million a year.
Prince Charles, the patron of English 2000, said at its launch that the English language was an important national asset. He said there has been a tendency to assume that the international lead it helps bring will always be there.
He added that it is essential to have a strong forward policy for testing that assumption, and for ensuring that we take whatever action we can to strengthen, co-ordinate and promote the teaching and learning of English into the next century.
But the council is concerned that teaching aids and resources from other English-speaking countries may overtake those produced in Britain, resulting in a fall in visitors from overseas entering the country for educational reasons.
There are also fears that within two generations English may be relegated to second place as the international language in favour of Chinese.
Latest statistics show that while 1.4 billion people world-wide speak English compared with a billion Chinese speakers, this balance may alter as the Pacific Rim increases its economic importance.
Of the four billion non-English speakers worldwide, it is estimated that a quarter will be attempting to learn the language by the year 2000.
Central to the project will be a network of 2,000 specialists working around the world.
Roger Bowers, assistant director-general of the British Council, said the council was more concerned with the commercial implications of the threat from other countries, rather than in preserving English worldwide in its "pure" form.
He said: "The threat comes from the fact that competition in the English-speaking field is growing not only from other large Anglophone countries such as Australia and the United States, which are selling their own courses and examinations, but also from areas such as Ireland and Malta. British English language teaching, therefore, has to either adapt or die. "