Britain may be leaving the EU, but English is going nowhere


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Andrew Linn, University of Westminster

After Brexit, there are various things that some in the EU hope to see and hear less in the future. One is Nigel Farage. Another is the English language.

In the early hours of June 24, as the referendum outcome was becoming clear, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, left-wing MEP and French presidential candidate, tweeted that “English cannot be the third working language of the European parliament”.

This is not the first time that French and German opinion has weighed in against alleged disproportionate use of English in EU business. In 2012, for example, a similar point was made about key eurozone recommendations from the European Commission being published initially “in a language which [as far as the Euro goes] is only spoken by less than 5m Irish”. With the number of native speakers of English in the EU set to drop from 14% to around 1% of the bloc’s total with the departure of the UK, this point just got a bit sharper.

Translation overload

Official EU language policy is multilingualism with equal rights for all languages used in member states. It recommends that “every European citizen should master two other languages in addition to their mother tongue” – Britain’s abject failure to achieve this should make it skulk away in shame.

The EU recognises 24 “official and working” languages, a number that has mushroomed from the original four (Dutch, French, German and Italian) as more countries have joined. All EU citizens have a right to access EU documents in any of those languages. This calls for a translation team numbering around 2,500, not to mention a further 600 full-time interpreters. In practice most day-to-day business is transacted in either English, French or German and then translated, but it is true that English dominates to a considerable extent.

Lots of work still to do.
Etienne Ansotte/EPA

The preponderance of English has nothing to do with the influence of Britain or even Britain’s membership of the EU. Historically, the expansion of the British empire, the impact of the industrial revolution and the emergence of the US as a world power have embedded English in the language repertoire of speakers across the globe.

Unlike Latin, which outlived the Roman empire as the lingua franca of medieval and renaissance Europe, English of course has native speakers (who may be unfairly advantaged), but it is those who have learned English as a foreign language – “Euro-English” or “English as a lingua franca” – who now constitute the majority of users.

According to the 2012 Special Eurobarometer on Europeans and their Languages, English is the most widely spoken foreign language in 19 of the member states where it is not an official language. Across Europe, 38% of people speak English well enough as a foreign language to have a conversation, compared to 12% speaking French and 11% in German.

The report also found that 67% of Europeans consider English the most useful foreign language, and that the numbers favouring German (17%) or French (16%) have declined. As a result, 79% of Europeans want their children to learn English, compared to 20% for French and German.

Too much invested in English

Huge sums have been invested in English teaching by both national governments and private enterprise. As the demand for learning English has increased, so has the supply. English language learning worldwide was estimated to be worth US$63.3 billion (£47.5 billion) in 2012, and it is expected that this market will rise to US$193.2 billion (£145.6 billion) by 2017. The value of English for speakers of other languages is not going to diminish any time soon. There is simply too much invested in it.

Speakers of English as a second language outnumber first-language English speakers by 2:1 both in Europe and globally. For many Europeans, and especially those employed in the EU, English is a useful piece in a toolbox of languages to be pressed into service when needed – a point which was evident in a recent project on whether the use of English in Europe was an opportunity or a threat. So in the majority of cases using English has precisely nothing to do with the UK or Britishness. The EU needs practical solutions and English provides one.

English is unchallenged as the lingua franca of Europe. It has even been suggested that in some countries of northern Europe it has become a second rather than a foreign language. Jan Paternotte, D66 party leader in Amsterdam, has proposed that English should be decreed the official second language of that city.

English has not always held its current privileged status. French and German have both functioned as common languages for high-profile fields such as philosophy, science and technology, politics and diplomacy, not to mention Church Slavonic, Russian, Portuguese and other languages in different times and places.

We can assume that English will not maintain its privileged position forever. Who benefits now, however, are not the predominantly monolingual British, but European anglocrats whose multilingualism provides them with a key to international education and employment.

Much about the EU may be about to change, but right now an anti-English language policy so dramatically out of step with practice would simply make the post-Brexit hangover more painful.

The Conversation

Andrew Linn, Pro-Vice-Chancellor and Dean of Social Sciences and Humanities, University of Westminster

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

How is technology changing Language Teaching?


Simon Brewster

We asked Simon Brewster, Deputy Director General at The Anglo Mexican Foundation, his views on the way that technology is changing the way we teach languages…

As far as technology is concerned, there are obvious advantages for learners in terms of access to information, greater communicability and the reality of learning outside the classroom.

Where I think we need to be careful is in not assuming that technology somehow replaces the need for good teaching. It is in the end another tool at our disposal but you can still have a bad class even with technology.

I am also not convinced that the use of online courses and whiteboards is any more effective in terms of learning than using more traditional tools. No-one has been able to provide any evidence that they are. If it is true that you can learn a language using different approaches and methodologies, I think it is also true that you can learn a language with a fairly minimal amount of material and equipment.

I would say that good teaching affects learning much more than the technology available. I went to an interesting talk which contrasted e-centric teachers with t-(as in teaching) centric teachers which made the same point.

It is also not the case that everyone has access to technology. Mexico has 80 million cell phones but relatively few people have access to the most sophisticated technology outside the more privileged groups.

In the case of formal education, our pupils cannot take cell phones into class for obvious reasons. A lot of technology they use is for socializing not study or reading: facebook, twitter, text messaging etc.

Where I do see technology having a significant impact is in areas such as intranets which connect students, teachers and parents, access to Internet for research purposes and support from websites for everything from making a poster to producing video and the fact that technology makes everything much faster.

For our students in the language teaching centres, as opposed to schools, we are focusing on getting teachers to encourage students to use existing components such as CD-Roms and course related websites at the same time as we develop a support website for students to consult as a value added element to their courses. We will do this at low cost including elements that are available at low or no cost.

I have to mention that aside from cost issues – a whiteboard comes in at around US$1900 – there are big security issues with technology for schools as well as related questions of cyber bullying. We have experienced problems in both of these areas and are now very active in raising awareness in pupils about the risks of social networking online.

By Simon Brewster

The Anglo Mexican Foundation

www.tamf.org.mx

Do you share Simon’s experiences? Please let us know your thoughts…

Online Learning – a Help or a Hindrance?


A very controversial question and one which evokes strong and convincing arguments on both sides. There is no doubt that the use of social networking sites, forums and Skype for learning English is very helpful indeed. You might also argue that the ease with which learners can access free resources is also a positive development…or is it?

Information Overload

With so much information available at the touch of a button (or screen!), are learners really absorbing and digesting everything they read? The answer is probably not. If you had access to an online dictionary or a dictionary app, would you really remember what a new word meant a few days after you’d found it, used it and your immediate need for it was over? Again, it’s unlikely. Why store information in your brain when you can store it in your smart phone’s 10GB memory?

This is what many people are calling information overload, and it’s not just a threat to language learners.  A classic example of this is illustrated in the blog post, Pancake People and Online Dictionaries.  Because we know we can rely on the internet to deliver the answers, we become both greedy and lazy in our quest to devour a mass of information we don’t need whilst not trying as hard to remember something we can so easily revisit later.

The Light at the end of the Tunnel

However it doesn’t need to be this way. Knowledge of this issue could help educators to encourage learners to use the internet in a way that can help them to remember information in the long term. If a student needs to look up a word, surely the rules should be the same whether they are in class or not. Therefore it might be wise if students were encouraged to keep a log of these words, create different sentences in which the words could be used, and make an effort to use the words again.

What do you think? Is online learning something that educators should use to help students, or should students be discouraged from using it?

The New Learning by Doing


It’s a well known fact that one of the best ways to learn a language is to use it in real life situations. The difficulty today is that real life situations are evolving, particularly in the way that we interact online. This year, Jason West published English Out There to tackle this issue and stay ahead of the trends.

The series uses exercises and focused speaking tasks that can be done face-to-face or online using social media. The courses are designed to help students practise their English in a way that works for them, whether it’s in person over a coffee, or online via Facebook or Skype. In the video below, English Out There students from a Swansea school practise their English in the local area as part of the course.

English Out There was shortlisted this year for the Teachers’ competition for Social Media use in Formal Language Learning Contexts and has received some brilliant reviews from teachers and students alike.

So does this series fill the gap? We’d love to hear your thoughts whether you have had experience with the course or not.

Jason runs free webinars for teachers on Mondays and Wednesdays on Wiziq.com (virtual classroom) and says that anyone is welcome and can ask questions. Find out more here: http://www.wiziq.com/EnglishOutThere. To learn more about English Out There in general, visit the website: http://englishoutthere.com/.