| Building Bridges:
by Angie Conti
Teaching English as a Foreign Language in the 21st century
"We may well be approaching a critical moment in human linguistic history. It is possible that a global language will emerge only once” Linguist Prof. David Crystal.
In a shrinking world, global communication is expanding faster than ever. Today, young people talk to peers across oceans; things are constantly purchased from foreign countries; people travel more than ever before. This growth in communication creates a need for a language that can be understood by people everywhere: a global language.
During the world wars soldiers from Britain and America marched across continents sowing the seeds of English. Today, the language continues to spread at high speed, largely due to the fact that it is used so heavily in the media. It has been estimated that about 400 million people speak English as their first language, 300 to 500 million as a second language, and about 750 million as a foreign language.
There may be more people speaking Chinese, Spanish or Hindi as a first language, but it is English they use in communicating with other cultures and nationalities. Their children learn to speak English because most of the world’s communication is done in English – it is the language of pop-culture, tourism, markets and trade, and the Internet. In most countries around the globe the English language can be found in some form or another, from business meetings to TV or a slogan on a T-shirt.
English is fast becoming the language of commercial and formal communication and it has become necessary for people to learn it in order to stay in business. It has also become economically viable for developing countries to learn English where knowledge of the language can lead to increased opportunities. In many countries, to be able to speak English is regarded as a matter of pride, a means to reach economic power and social status. In some parts of the world it has got to the point where being educated means to speak English. The world has never before been dominated by a language as it is dominated today by English; it influences all areas of human activity.
When it comes to learning foreign languages, the focus on English far outweighs any other language. The language is being taught and learned by people of all ages and from all walks life in all countries on all continents. Estimates show that the number of non-native children studying English at primary level is over 50 million and over 80 million study it at secondary level. It is expected that as much as one-third of the world's population will soon be studying English.
According to linguist Prof. David Crystal, it is possible for a new variant of English to develop within just days or weeks. It all depends on the particular culture of where it begins. The language will develop around that culture – such as needing new words for foods which are not found in other places or indigenous traditions. New uses of the English language are challenging the strength of British and American English and with it the whole structure of English language teaching (ELT) in the world.
ELT has become a multibillion-dollar industry and the responsibility of teachers is rising significantly. Being a global industry it is affected by changes much faster than most other services. In addition, the requirements of those learning the language also change, due to demands made by society and employment requirements. The people teaching the world to speak English are constantly faced with new demands; a fact which has been most noticeable due to technological growth in recent years.
As a result, teachers of English as a Foreign Language (EFL) are in huge demand all over the world and these are the people who will help to bridge cultures and language barriers. They are the ones who contribute in no small way to making communication between people of different countries and cultures possible.