IETUGL Part 5: Is English the ultimate global language?

In a five-part blog series I have been proposing to answer the question: Is English the ultimate global language? This is the fifth and final post of this blog series. Read posts 1, 2, 3 and 4 to catch up.

In part 4 I considered how the English language has evolved to become a prime contender for the number one language of the Internet. I looked at the facts and figures, and discussed how English, as a language, is ever-changing – the language used online is not necessarily the same as that used in written or spoken English. I finished part 4 by explaining the two main reasons why English has been adopted as the world’s global language – the geographical and historical dominance of the British Empire and the fact that, through computers and the Internet, people have become dependant on English.

Part 5: Is English the ultimate global language?

I began this series looking to re-visit and reflect upon my university dissertation; exploring the idea of universal and international language, assessing when it is that people need to communicate in a language other than their own and looking into how technology and the Internet are changing the way we communicate. I have come a long way from my original dissertation and it has been amazing to see how things have moved on in just two years.

Over 130 years ago, a new language was created from scratch, with a vision for it to become universal and international. Esperanto is a language systematically simple and easy to learn, but realistically only a very small percentage of the world speak and understand it. Our Esperanto post received an overwhelming response from some keen speakers of the language around the world, which offered an interesting insight into the language. While I am no Esperanto expert and people have offered some good arguments for the language, I am still struggling to believe that it is quite the international language that it could be. (We will be publishing a guest post by an Esperanto expert in the coming weeks, so look out for that.) There is no disputing that it is used internationally, but there is, of course, another language that is used throughout the world and by millions more people – English.

So, what does this mean for the ELT industry and us as designers within this ever-growing industry?

I recently (April 2014) spent just over two weeks on holiday in Japan by myself. It was my first time leaving Europe and my first time travelling on my own. I did not know a lot of Japanese beforehand but I certainly didn’t expect everyone to understand or speak English. I tried my best with the Japanese language and my basic arigatou gozaimasu (thank you very much), konnichiwa (hello/good afternoon) and sumimasen (excuse me) were much appreciated – plus general nodding and smiling always goes down well. But something that I did discover is that no matter how much English they know, the Japanese will still try. They want to be able to understand and speak English because they understand the importance of it. Even more than this, what left an impression on me was that English was very much the language of the tourist. If, for example, a Dutch person asked me to take their photo, they would do so in English. The same goes for Malaysian, Swedish, Polish, whatever language is their native tongue. English is an international language.

Although certainly not created with that intention, it is English that has become the world’s lingua franca – a language systematically used to make communication possible between people not sharing a mother tongue. It may not be the language with the most speakers in the world, that belongs to Mandarin. But English is spoken all over the world, rather than predominantly in one, albeit very large, country. English has become the language of business, science, travel, and above all, it is the language of technology and the Internet. As the Internet and technology in general continue to evolve, so too does the way in which learners engage and interact with the English language. Through increased accessibility to different learning methods for different individual learners, the spread of the English language is also increasing.­ Not everybody does speak English, but speakers of the language are increasing everyday throughout the world.

Of course, we can’t take all of the credit, but some of this spread of the English language is down to the ELT industry. In order for people, young and old, to be able to learn English they need to have access to learning resources – whether this be in the form of a book, mobile application, website or language class. Regardless of cultural background, native language or previous language learning experience, there are resources out there to enable everyone to learn English. As well as resources to help non-native English speaking teachers teach English.

As a graphic designer within this industry, I feel that design plays an important role in the deliverance of English Language Teaching. The material, whether a printed book or something digital like online resource materials or a mobile application, needs to be easily accessible, functional and engaging. These are design problems that we work with every day at emc design, constantly pushing to solve them in fresh ways. We aim to aid both learners of English and teachers of English alike, to not only do so to the best of their ability but also to enjoy it. This means using visual language, alongside the English language, to create interesting and inviting page designs (or screens etc.) whilst not losing their functional aspect.

It is exciting to be a part of not only a growing industry of any kind but also one that does something so positive as enabling people from all over the world to communicate with each other, through the English language.

About Emma

I am a graphic designer at emc design. I like trees, typography, punk rock, the sea, my cat, coffee and Japan.
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3 Responses to IETUGL Part 5: Is English the ultimate global language?

  1. Zoe says:

    “They want to be able to understand and speak English because they understand the importance of it.” I’m not sure that would be necessarily true in all cultures. In my experience in Turkey, people often speak English to me just because they want to be as helpful and / or welcoming as possible, not because they necessarily want to improve their language level. Tourists in the markets here can be greeted in French, German, Russian, English or Arabic depending on how the salesperson judges their face and body language. Not everyone who speaks to you in English is motivated by the idea of participating in or practising a global language. It’s more personal than that.

    • Emma says:

      Of course! I was speaking of my personal experience in Japan. I can’t speak for every country or culture but I thought it was worth including my English language experience in Japan as it is so current. (I was there less than a month ago and started writing this series before I went). I am by no means suggesting that everyone that uses English does so for the same reasons.

  2. Tony says:

    Hi Emma, I enjoyed your blog series. Thank you

    I think Zoe has a good point, we do live in a kind of English Language bubble. I recently spent a lot of time working with Polish colleagues on an ELT project and they pride themselves on conversing in English with us – and tolerating our poor grasp and misuse of Polish! But, the motivation is doing a good job for an English-speaking employer on an English-language website, and probably opening up all sorts of career and travel opportunities. When they needed to talk as a group for personal reasons and to discuss more complex issues they reverted to their first language. I think i’m saying – badly – that English as a shared ‘common’ language is about context, and specific needs and aspirations, so it will continue to grow as a language of translation and interpretation where it is useful. Talk of a global language is maybe premature!

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