Influential think tank Demos today calls for a radical shift in the way English is taught and defined, arguing that Britain is failing to keep pace with the rise of ‘global English’.
As You Like It: Catching up in an age of global English warns that the UK risks being marginalised on the world stage if it does not abandon outdated views on the way English is used around the world.
The report recommends a sea change in the way we think about English, proposing new approaches not only to the ways native English speakers learn foreign languages, but also the way in which new entrants to the UK learn English. The report will also come as a shock to language purists, arguing for a new online democratic resource to challenge the standard dictionary.
As You Like It points to estimates that the UK’s position as the home of the English language is currently worth an extra £14.5 billion to the UK economy, in addition to the political and cultural benefits it brings. But reliance on this privileged position is becoming increasingly outdated, with non native English speakers set to top 2 billion in as little as 5 years.
The report identifies 3 factors contributing to UK complacency:
• An outdated view of the English language more suited to the days of Empire than to a modern globalised world
• A predominantly monolingual population, lacking the language skills to take the opportunities that other languages open
• Native speakers of other languages becoming more proficient in using English -being better positioned to operate multilingually in a globalised world
The report argues that these factors arise from a failure to acknowledge the different ways English is evolving around the world. It points to the examples of ‘Chinglish’ and ‘Hinglish’ - adaptations of English influenced by Chinese and Hindu languages respectively. The report also looks to the influence of the internet, arguing that ‘the English language of Google and Wikipedia is simply not the English language of Queen Anne and William Penn.’
Co-author of the report, Sam Jones said:
‘English can no longer be seen as a single language, but more as a family of languages. Each of these reflect the different ways people experience the world. We all encounter this every day, from sketch show ‘Goodness Gracious Me’ to comments on the BBC website. Such variation is now as much part of the English language as is grammar and word order. The problem is that it is rarely seen as such. As the world becomes more and more connected, accommodating different forms of English will be crucial to building the cultural literacy we need’.
The report makes a number of recommendations for Government action:
• Involving non-native English speakers in UK schools – allowing new entrants to the UK to develop their language skills alongside English pupils. This will not only aid their language development, but also help build greater cross-cultural understanding
• Starting language lessons early and building motivation to study languages – with the Dearing report this week re-emphasising the importance of language skills, children should be encouraged to take up language study from an earlier age through diversifying the curriculum and varying the languages available to study.
• Developing skills in accommodation – as on and offline encounters with different forms of English become more common it will be essential that we have the skills to approach and adapt to them. Exposure to these diverse forms of English should be incorporated into the English curriculum
• Developing a learning network for global English – The Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Department of Culture Media and Sport should support the development of British Council offices as public spaces that provide learners with access to a digital network
The report also calls for a challenge to the dominance of an elite minority in determining what is regarded as ‘correct English’. To reflect the ways English is shifting from being a single language to a family of languages, As You Like It proposes the establishment of ‘democtionary.org’. Modelled on open source websites like Wikipedia, the online dictionary would allow people to add entries from around the world - with new words and definitions of English added as they are actually used. The report argues that this would create a more valid reflection of the English language than that of the Oxford English Dictionary.
E N D S