English loses world power

31st October 1997 at 00:00

The dominance of our language is likely to be challenged by Spanish and Mandarin, reports Dorothy Lepkowska

The English language is destined to change as a result of a global shortage of good teachers and changes to the world order, a new study claims. In the coming decades English will be challenged around the world by other languages as economic, demographic and political maps are redrawn.

The report, from The British Council, claims that within 10 years the number of people speaking English as a second language will exceed native speakers, who will become "minority stakeholders in the global resource".

"Their literature and television may no longer provide the focal point of a global English language culture, their teachers no longer form the unchallenged authoritative models for learners," it says.

The result, according to author David Graddol, will be that English is taught around the world by second-language speakers, eventually leading to new "regional" forms of the language.

He said that while English was in no immediate danger, it was "foolhardy to imagine that its pre-eminent position as a world language will not be challenged.

"The language will grow in usage and variety, yet simultaneously diminish in relative global importance," he said.

The teacher shortage was already being felt in parts of Asia. In Thailand, for example, government plans to introduce English to the primary curriculum are being scuppered by big business which is poaching proficient teachers.

The study predicts that the use of Spanish is likely to grow in the Americas with the continents becoming increasing bilingual in English and Spanish. Meanwhile in Asia, Mandarin is assuming prominence, with Vietnamese gaining in importance as that country's economy begins to catch up with Japan's.

Among European countries, however, the position of English is unlikely to change significantly. In the Russian Federation, 60 per cent of secondary pupils learn English compared with 25 per cent taking German and 15 per cent French.

English may also suffer from a "new political spirit of neighbourliness" with people studying the languages of adjacent countries rather than those from different cultural and economic regions.

Mr Graddol said English was under threat from youth culture and in particular the marketing techniques of companies such as Coca-Cola and Benetton. These multinationals try to emphasise cultural diversity.

The study predicts that for 12 to 22-year-olds of the future "knowing several languages would be commonplace".

For further information on The Future of English by David Graddol contact English 2000, 10 Spring Gardens, London SW1A 2BN. Tel. 0171 930 8466.

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