Saturday, February 1, 2020

Why (and Z Generation) English

The changes in the geopolitical map since the beginning of the 21st century have not changed the fact that English is the lingua franca of the world. English continues to serve as the primary international language of communication. What is interesting is that of the 7.5 billion people that speak English in the world, some 20% of the total population, only 360 million speak it as native language. Therefore, the primary learners of English are people living outside the Anglo-Saxon world.

While the need for English has not changed, its purpose has changed radically. Once, the motivation for learning English was to be to travel to England and the United States and order something on the menu or talk with tourists. Only the elite few required better English to conduct business or give lectures in these countries. Today, the economy is global and requires even the smallest business people, such as an E-bay supplier, to work with people all over the world. To do so, they must communicate in English. This requirement is so vital that English is the language of communication within countries and companies whose native language is not English even if that language is a major language. For example, many German multinationals function in English while Israeli high tech-tech companies often write all their first drafts of technical material in English.

On a wider front, consumers in Europe or Asia that do not understand advanced English may find it difficult to understand vital explanations or even realize what they are buying or read the name of the store. Companies assume that buyers can read English. On the more controversial level, an increasing number of ordinary people worldwide find it natural to speak English to each other even though they are native speakers of same non-English language. Chatting in English is often considered more sophisticated. On a linguistic front for some, English words are flooding other languages and “wiping out native species”. For example, Israeli chefs love saying crispy instead of the Hebrew word פריך [parich]. Woe to the television viewer or parent that does not English.

The education systems, as usual, are generations behind.  Nomenclature in teaching English has included English as Foreign Language (EFL), English as a Second Language (ESL) and English for Academic Purposes (EAP), to name just a few. Even the latter is no longer sufficient as non-native speakers also require English for business purposes to be able to integrate into and profit from the global economy. Alas, most programs and books seem to focus on visiting London and New York and enjoying the tourist sites. The new European CEFR, a series of can-do statements for various levels of English, does provide a transitional tool but fails to define the dominant context of the English use. Furthermore, the European love of precision and accuracy ignore the fact that non-native speakers need to be able to express their ideas clearly and concisely above all, i.e., grammar is much less important than fluency and accuracy. The sad fact is that too many learners must invest significant amounts of their own money to attain their required level of English.  Worldwide, the schools are failing in the task of properly preparing them for the 21st century.

The X, Y and Z of the situation is that all generations worldwide require advanced English to fully function in the global economy and even understand simple conversations in their own country. “The Queen lives in Buckingham Palace” may still be interesting but is no longer sufficient.

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