Global Spread of English Poses Problems for UK

You might think that people who speak English as their native tongue have it made. Think again! There is a point at which being successful can turn into a disadvantage.

The British Council has found that the global dominance of English poses major problems for Britain. A report, entitled “English Next” by David Graddol, shows that the spread of English may lead to serious disadvantages for native speakers. Graduates who only speak English face a bleak future when looking for jobs in global companies and organizations in competition with multilingual young people from other counties.


“English is, as ever, an important tool for operating on the world stage,” said John Whitehead, director of the British Council. “But Graddol’s research highlights that once everyone speaks English, companies will naturally look for employees who speak other major languages such as Mandarin Chinese or Spanish as well. There is a need to take radical action … otherwise we in the UK will find ourselves at a permanent disadvantage.”

According to Graddol, English should no longer be thought of as a foreign language at all. Rather, it is rapidly becoming a basic skill everyone must have. And as it becomes a basic skill, people speaking languages other than English become increasingly desirable. India, for example, need an estimated 160 000 speakers of other foreign languages and can educate only 40 000.

“Learning languages allows a competitive advantage to be maintained: Only two years ago that advantage was provided by English alone,” says Graddol. It’s no longer enough today. Even in English-speaking countries such as the United States and Britain, many immigrants now have to learn languages other than English. They have to live and work with people who come from other language groups. English may not even be the first language new arrivals learn. In America, “Honduran cooks learn Mandarin; Mexican clerks learn Korean,” points out Graddol. “Most often they learn Spanish” – the second largest language in the US.


He suggested that the UK’s best defense against the threat of the spread of English is to learn other languages. “We have to think carefully about which languages those are. French, for example, is declining as an international language, but Spanish, Mandarin and Arabic are all languages of the future. Ethnic minority groups in the UK may well prove to be a major asset in this effort.”

John Whitehead agrees, “We’ve already recognized that it is absolutely essential for British children to learn other languages, and we will be working hard to put further strategies in place to ensure this.”





Correct the following statements, if necessary.

a) Learning other languages is the best defense for the UK.

b) Spanish is declining as an international language

c) The spread of English is an advantage for native speakers.

d) English should be thought of as a foreign language.

e) The UK has not realized the need to learn other languages.

f) Companies are looking for people who speak other languages than English.

g) Mandarin is the most common other language learned in the US.

h) Ethnic minority groups in the UK are a barrier to language development.



Form groups of three and discuss the following:

a) Why is it surprising that the spread of International English has become a problem for Great Britain? Use your dictionary to find out what “ironic” means. Is ironic a fitting description of this development? Is there anything else ironic about the situation?

b) Graddol believes that English is now a basic skill, not a foreign language. What does he mean by this? Do you agree? Do you know anyone personally who does not understand English? Is this a serious disadvantage? .

c) Without foreign languages “we in the UK will find ourselves at a permanent disadvantage.” Is this true of Norway as well; that is, will Norway lose its competitive advantage if Norwegians are only fluent in English and no other foreign languages?

d) Do you think you will need a foreign language other than English in your working life? Which foreign languages do you think will be most important for Norway in the future? Which languages do you think will get more students in the coming years? Which will get less?