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Planning For ESL's Future

October 18, 2005

I wonder how schools teaching English today plan for the future. Indeed how far ahead can we realistically look when thinking of the demand for English teaching?

Hello friends,

We have experienced some remarkable developments over the last few decades. Within the next ten years or so the number of people who speak English as a second language will probably exceed the number of native speakers. This fact alone has extraordinary implications for teaching.

Native speakers often think of themselves as owners of the language; they see it as bound up closely to their culture. In teaching we look to native speaker resources: literature, cinema, television, newspapers and so forth as authoritative teaching texts, providing not just language models but often an implicit moral authority too. But as other stakeholders in the English language claim the language as their own, they may well resist what appears to be cultural imperialism.

As I’ve mentioned before here, the structure of the language is affected by this trend too. International users of English are not bothered by niceties of grammar and usage. They want something that is simple to use and understand.

Although English seems to have strength as an international language at present, will this be true when China starts to influence global business or when the Spanish speakers of the Americas flex their linguistic muscles?

One influence that has no historical precedent is the Internet, where English is undoubtedly the dominant language. But we have no way of knowing if that dominance will continue.

Reflections on this topic are fascinating but inconclusive. How useful it would be if we could predict how many people will be using English and for what purposes in ten, fifteen, twenty, even fifty years. For schools the overall pattern may not be so complex if they focus on local conditions and local demand. What kinds of companies are opening up; who do these companies recruit? What do young people watch and read? What ambitions do young people have for further study and future work?
If you can answer these questions, you may be able to chart a clear course through stormy waters.

Until next time,


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  1. Andrew Osobka Says:


    Should teachers teach the British and American culture in the EFL classroom?

    Since English has become a lingua franca of the global village, so indispensable in the business world, it has reached every classroom around the globe as a primary foreign language to be learned. All those wishing to keep abreast with the modern global society need to have a good communicative competence in this language. But learning a foreign language does not mean memorization of a few grammar rules and thousands of words. To understand a Brit or an American is to have some basic knowledge of their culture and the way these people think.

    Andrew Osobka

  1. PDean Says:

    Note from Patricia:

    Thank you Andrew for those insightful comments. You do bring up some good points. What do my other readers think about the issue of cultural imperialism in the EFL classroom, in particular ?

  1. Ellen Tann Says:

    Teaching here in China. Most of our students want to learn other culture whether it be American, British, French or even Singaporean. So as a multicultural person, born in Singapore and naturalized in the US, I usually compare both the cultures I teach whether it be Chinese, American, Singaporean or Jewish cultures too. We should expose our students to world culture. We remember world holidays and explain what people in that culture or country do during that festivals. We have students present reports of different countries and they explain some of the food, culture and customs of those countries. So I think teaching world cultures is probably a good thing.

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