TEFL English ascending as a world language

According to, the term ?Lingua Franca? refers to a language ?widely used beyond the population of its native speakers?. [1] There are many different ways in which a language can reach ?Lingua Franca? status; through warfare and colonisation, through international commerce and through the distribution of information via various Medias, but to mention a few.

Many languages have enjoyed Lingua Franca status in different parts of the world throughout history. The Lingua Franca of the Roman Empire during the period between c.300 BC ? AD 300 was Koine Greek. [2] From the 17th century up until quite recently, when it was replaced with English, French was the lingua Franca of diplomacy in Europe. Today, Arabic is the Lingua Franca of the Muslim communities of the world and English is internationally used for, among other things, international business and air traffic control. [1]

David Graddol, a leading ELT researcher and author, in a report published in 2004, predicted that within the next decade, a third of the worlds population will be learning English. [3] In another article in the Guardian Weekly online, David poses the question whether or not this is something that is necessarily a good thing. He warns that if the trend continues and English becomes a worldwide Lingua Franca ?we are a major step closer to creating a world in which English is expected of every global citizen and those without English will form a new social class, socially and economically excluded.? [4]

So why has the use of English become so widespread? What are the advantages and disadvantages of English - currently spoken and understood by about 514,000,000 people in the world - in comparison to, for example, Mandarin Chinese which currently is understood and spoken by a more than a billion (approx. 1,075,000,000) people? [5]

The British Empire - which at its peak held a population of approximately one quarter of the world?s population and had colonised so many countries in different parts of the world that it was referred to as ?The Empire on which the sun never sets? [6] - established English as a Lingua Franca of politics and diplomacy in territories encompassing every continent on the planet. [7] Mandarin Chinese on the other hand, though spoken by almost twice as many people in the world, is not nearly as geographically widespread as English. [8]

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Through satellite television and The Internet, English has recently further established itself as a Lingua Franca for spreading entertainment and information around the world. However this is waning, as internet access is becoming more and more available in non-native English speaking countries with large populations and low general English proficiency. [9]

One of the great advantages of English is how adaptable it is. Currently incorporating words from over 350 other languages, mainly from its linguistic relatives in the groups of Germanic and indo- European languages, it is still undergoing constant change with hundreds of words and phrases coming into existence every year, some fading away, but many others finding their way into dictionaries and thesauruses. [9] [10]

Mandarin Chinese is a tonal language, meaning that words are distinguished not only by consonants and vowels but also by tone. To be understood when speaking Mandarin, one must pronounce every word correctly. [11] In this aspect English has an advantage, one can pronounce words in many different ways, correctly or incorrectly, and still be understood by other speakers.

To conclude, everything indicates that English will maintain and further reinforce its status as a world language; at least this is the way things are looking at the moment. However, to quote Prof. David Crystal, President of the International Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign Language (IATEFL): ?who dares predict very far ahead? Who would have predicted, 1000 years ago, that Latin would be negligible today?? [9]

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Author: Henrik Larsson

Date of post: 2006-09-26