The Globality of English

In response to Elizabeth's call for a summary of the English Language Learners statistics in her comments of my Reasons I mostly don't like textboooks2... coupled with my guilt about the back-log of unfinished posts awaiting me and... my seemingly outlandish cry that TEFL teachers are behind-the-scenes of globalization, it's probably about time I wrap up the presentation I attended back in July with David Graddol.

Who is David Graddol?

David Graddol is a British linguist most commonly known for his works English Next, 2006 and the Future of English 1997. He is the Managing Director of the English Company (UK) Ltd, and provides consulting and publishing services on issues related to global English.

Graddol has worked on language projects in the Middle East, India, China and Latin America, is joint editor of the journal English Today, a member of the editorial boards of Language Planning and Language Problems and the Journal of Visual Communication and has worked for 25 years in the Faculty of Education and Language Studies at the UK Open University.

Who is speaking English?

Estimates of second language speakers vary greatly: from 470 million to over a billion depending on how literacy or mastery is defined and measured. Linguistics professor, David Crystal, calculates that non-native speakers now outnumber native speakers by a ratio of 3 to 1.

However he also says that it's not so much about how many speak any particular language but who speaks it: the economic power of that language.

74% of all English spoken is between non-English speakers and non-English speakers.

Native speakers to speakers of other countries 12% and only 4% of the English spoken today occurs between English native speakers and other English native speakers.

We can blame China

Well, actually we can blame China looking at the examples of the Netherlands and Singapore, however, once China took the decision to make sure that English language learning should be a basic skill to be learned from year 3 on, the rest of the non-English-speaking world quickly followed suit.


Knowledge of English is seen as a passport to employment, a gateway to wealth.

world population by arenamontanusPreviously, when students started learning English at age 12-14, they would probably get around 4-5 years of English study: nowhere near enough to enter academic study in this language.

By ensuring, instead, that students start learning from early childhood they will have that many more years to reach university level requirements, master English and thus become more employable citizens.

20% of the world's children are in India, 14% are in China.

The entire language world order is changing as is the age structure of the populations speaking them. While the age demographic of the BRIC nations (Brazil, Russia, India & China) and other developing countries have been increasing, the developed countries are slowing down and aging instead.

Given global food statistics, on the other hand, immigration into the developed nations will probably increase - and they'll all need to speak the global language.


Some factors influencing English as a language:

  • input of new words from other languages
  • the web2.0 vocabulary
  • pressure to move up the value train
  • the educational "arms" race
  • knowledge based economies
  • the globe reduced to a village: a networked, connected society

English will soon not be seen as a "foreign" language, thus the knowledge of it may ebb as an economic advantage - it'll simply be a required skill.

The economic world order is changing.

Companies, no matter where their HQs are based are using English as their official corporate language. It's no longer about "foreigners" communicating with English speaking nations. It's about a world speaking to its fellow global citizens.

gdpThe EU may be today's largest world economy (the US second) but with Europe's rapidly aging population this is probably not sustainable.

Who will take its place?

Global trends in employment include:

  • agricultural and service jobs falling away
  • more competition for the same jobs
  • more outsourcing in the areas of Research and Development
  • intercultural competence more and more necessary
  • multilingualism important

The need to demonstrate creativity, innovation and critical thinking are also increasingly becoming obligatory.

A major paradigm shift is occurring in general education to meet these requirements.
Specifically, focusing on:
  • learner autonomy
  • learning by doing
  • using technology in classrooms to achieve the above

Which raises critical and ethical questions regarding the those who can and the those who can't of tomorrow.

What is ELT doing to meet this?

Within the practice of learning and teaching English, we see these trends:
  • in 2010, we'll reach the global peak of 'learners,' the bulk in classes will become 'users'
  • 30% of US students will be in ESL classes by 2010 (US census)
  • increased younger learners in the developing nations
  • increased mature learners (Europe)
  • three quarters of all travel occuring between non-English speaking countries.
  • age of student travel for English learning changing: demand for work placement
  • requirement for real speaking practice
  • requirement of exposure to global accents
  • requirement of computer knowledge

The spread of English also raises vital cultural concerns: are national identities under threat?

So... going back to Elizabeth and others and my reasons for not liking most textbooks(2): cultural incompatibility... this video may perhaps go a little way into explaining why I think it's an important issue to pay attention to (it's a wonderful talk - very worth watching):

What do you think?

Should we really have a single story?


7 Responses to “The Globality of English”

  • Shelly Terrell says:
    October 12, 2009


    Another excellent post! You summed up Graddol's points well. I enjoyed attending the seminar with you & Kenny.

    Also, you bring up some important issues that many people who are not teaching EFL (ESOL) may not realize.

  • Unknown says:
    October 12, 2009

    Hi Karen,
    I like your blog, even if you don’t like most textbooks 
    Here are a few extra bits of information you may like to consider.
    We can blame China: I’m not sure we can ‘blame ‘China for the introduction of English, which began first in post Franco Spain, mainly because of tourism in the 1980s, spread throughout Europe, with the gradual introduction of primary English, and then to many other countries in the 1990s. China of course provided critical mass but they only implemented their reform in 2004.
    There are 225 million learners of English as EFL in the state school system in China (but only an expected 12.5 million teachers), and about 10 million non-English majors in the colleges and universities. Although there are more children in India, they would be considered to be ESL, ESOL not ELF learners. My hunch is that the washback from what’s happening in language instruction in China will ultimately be more influential than what’s happening in India.
    One of David Graddol’s hypotheses is that because English is being introduced at primary, it will lose its slot as a secondary school curriculum subject, and thus signalling the death of EFL. Maybe he’s right, maybe it will happen, but there’s no sign of this in China. It means that CLIL would have to be introduced in secondary, which will involve a huge investment in curriculum education, not least in terms of training, materials, testing. I haven’t seen any sign of this, although CLIL surfaces among the university teachers.
    The most important point he makes is that English becomes a basic skill along with reading, writing, math and ICT (information and communications technology). This is now a given in most countries.



  • Curtis Chambers says:
    October 13, 2009

    Nice post. Another reason for the popularity of English is that it is a great language. I have read this is why it is the language of science.

  • Alex Case says:
    October 13, 2009

    Nice summary. The only bit I'd argue with is:

    "Previously, when students started learning English at age 12-14, they would probably get around 4-5 years of English study: nowhere near enough to enter academic study in this language."

    All the evidence suggests that teenagers are the most efficient language learners, and it is much better value for money to boost the number of hours of English they study than it is to start them on English earlier. The only exception to that is complete immersion, e.g. moving abroad or going to an international school.

  • Darren Elliott says:
    October 13, 2009

    I saw Graddol at last year's JALT conference (one of the big ones here in Japan), but I read his English Next a few years ago - very happy that it was distributed free. Last year at JALT was awash with English as Lingua Franca / World Englishes / International English presentations (Andy Kirkpatrick was also speaking, amongst others). This year saw the 2nd International Conference of English as a Lingua Franca at the University of Southampton. It's reaching a tipping point at which people will have to accept that English is not a gift for the native speaker to magnaimously lend to the "foreigner", under strict conditions that they don't break it.

    Thanks for bringing this up, Karenne.

  • Unknown says:
    October 13, 2009

    Superb stuff, Karenne.

    Keep pushing!

    Keep asking those awkward questions and insisting on what isn't going to go away.

  • Nick Jaworski says:
    October 14, 2009

    Great post, lots of useful information here that I'll be referring back to often I bet.

    No, I definitely don't think we should have a single story.

    I think this debate about native speakers and non-native speakers is becoming a more prominent issue in ELT. Most of our students won't speak to native speakers, so why push it?

    I'm a big fan of the Russian philosopher Mikhail Bakhtin. He states that their are too major forces in language: centrifugal and centripedal. Centrifugal pushes out, away from an axis. It's the force of change. Centripedal pushes inwards, it tries to negate or limit change. I see NESTs as the centripedal force and I think they are useful in this regard.

    Should we really incorporate the extremely diverse array of Englishes into our curriculum? Is this even possible? I find it doubtful and problematic. I think things like lexis, grammar, and certain limits on pronunciation should be kept centered. This allows for ease of communication. If we start to see uniquely Chinese-English forms as acceptable along with uniquely Russian-English forms, how will the two communicate? How can we possibly include all the divergent Englishes into a curriculum? The answer is we can't. Students get frustrated enough with the differences between British and American English and that's a very simplified dichotomy in the world of ELT.

    Another issue is that a language is very much a culture and learning English through the lens of the countries that speak it can be very useful. On the other hand, as you mention, the majority of speakers are non-natives now, so we need to realize that English speaking culture very much exists outside of the native-born speakers' countries.

    With all that said, I do really agree that our courses need to reflect multicultural approaches more, provide info on many different countries and cultures and include lots of different accents from all around the world in audio and video. At the moment too many courses and coursebooks are Euro or Amerocentric.


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