Global spread of English threatens US, UK
Updated: 2006-02-22 16:31
The dominance of English as the world's top language -- until recently an
advantage to both Britain and the United States -- is now beginning to undermine
the competitiveness of both nations, according to a major research report.
The report commissioned by the British Council says monolingual English
graduates "face a bleak economic future" as multilingual competitors flood into
the workforce from all corners of the globe.
A massive increase in the number of people learning English is under way and
likely to peak at around 2 billion in the next decade, according to the report
entitled "English Next."
More than half of all primary school children in China now learn English and
the number of English speakers in India and China -- 500 million -- now exceeds
the total number of mother-tongue English speakers elsewhere in the world.
These new polyglots, and the companies that employ them, have significant
competitive advantages over their monoglot rivals, including a vital
understanding of different cultures, in a world faced with rapid globalization.
"The competitive advantage of speaking English is ebbing away," said the
author of the report, linguistic consultant David Graddol. "Once everyone speaks
English, advantage can only be maintained by having something else -- other
skills, such as speaking several languages.
"At a corporate level, the UK and U.S. economies have been enjoying a huge
benefit from having so many English speakers elsewhere in the world," he told
Reuters on Tuesday.
"They can outsource overseas to India, for example, allowing them to cut
costs and boost growth."
But Graddol said there were mounting disadvantages for U.S. and British
companies if they stayed monolingual.
Companies from other countries could use exactly the same methods to cut
costs. And those foreign competitors could also trade and take orders in other
"We know from trade associations that small and medium-sized British firms
are losing a lot of business because they can't even answer calls from abroad on
the switchboard," he said.
"Calls don't get to the right people because the telephone operators don't
have the languages needed."
Around 30 percent of the British population speaks a language other than
English, but about half of these people have that other language as a mother
tongue, Graddol said.
In the United States, 22 percent of the population speaks a language other
than English, mainly Spanish, and many of these people have Spanish as their
first language, figures from the U.S. Modern Language Association show.
British higher education may already be suffering from being monolingual,
The number of foreign, particularly Chinese, students entering UK
universities was falling as colleges in other parts of the world offered courses
in English at lower cost, he said.
English-language teaching now earns Britain up to 1.3 billion pounds ($2.27
billion) directly and other education-related exports bring in a further 10
billion pounds a year, the report said.