Thursday, April 14, 2011

Everybody Loves English

I saw this article on a friend's Facebook page and was intrigued. Like my friend, I am a former Teacher of English as a Foreign Language (or TEFL), a job I've never entirely left in my past.

The article references a report on English proficiency. and while I don't intend to recap the entire report here, I do want to highlight one of its arguments here: "Today, English proficiency can hardly be thought of as an economic advantage at all. It is certainly no longer a marker of the elite. Instead, it is increasingly a basic skill needed for the entire workforce, in the same way that literacy was transformed in the last two centuries from an elite privilege to a basic requirement for informed citizenship."

English, it seems, is regarded as a key tool for innovation, investment and success. This reminds me of something another TEFL friend used to say all the time: "Speaking English is a privilege." He didn't mean it the way my elementary school teachers did when they used to inform us that recess was a privilege, not a right. He meant that it made everything easier, and that we were incredibly lucky to grow up speaking it as our first language.

Surely the ubiquity of the English language has some soft power benefits for English-speaking countries. But, at the same time, English is increasingly a second language. As the report notes, "Most communication in English today is between non-native speakers, who usually accept non-standard grammar and pronunciation as long as communication remains clear." So the English language, like Japanese pop culture, is increasingly de-territorialized, suggesting that its soft power benefits aren't as straightforward as they might first appear.

I'd encourage you to read the report, if you're at all interested in language learning. I've only touched on a bit of it here, but it's a really fascinating read.

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