ELT: Who really profits?

One of the most important ideas for today’s English language educators and learners is well-articulated in David Graddol’s English Next India. He says…

“When English becomes universal, no one gains advantage by having it. Rather, anyone without it suffers. We are fast moving into a world in which not to have English is to be marginalised and excluded.”

Graddol spoke even more bluntly about the economics of English at the Harrogate conference this past spring. Businesses and governments invest huge amounts in educating their populace in English, supposedly for financial gain and, yet, Graddol questions, who is really benefiting?

Graddol spoke about the perceived economic benefits of learning English and how those perceptions affect educational policy.

He makes it clear that the commercialization of English is not new, but that economic reasons are heavily influencing the decisions governments make about English education. He maintains that this is because governments believe that English leads to an increase in wealth, but Graddol questions the truth of this assumption:

Graddol asks, “Is it the case… that wealthier countries are able to invest more in English and therefore more people learn English or is it the fact that learning English produces wealth somehow in some mysterious way?”

He discusses the real costs of English education and begins to hint at the real question: who profits? Then, around 23 minutes in, he gives and interesting example…

Watch on the BC site, starting about 23 minutes it gets really interesting. Or check the highlights and a Harrogate registered blogger’s take on it. Either way, it’s quite slow to load, but worth hearing.

In one of the most interesting parts of this talk, especially for those interested in Indian education and in the call center phenomenon and outsourcing (around 23:12), Graddol describes how Indian call centers actively try to hire people who speak English only at the precise level needed for certain processes.

Teachers will see immediately how this could have a seriously negative effect on language education.

Graddol has been one of the most interesting and straightforward writers to tell the story of English. His Changing English, available in U.S. and in India, is a very good history of English marked by his perceptive take on the field. His perception is no less sharp in this talk.

He clearly says that, in India, there’s “a great shortage of English speakers at the right level. In India anyone with very good English will be off finding a better paid job somewhere else.” He explains how call centers are looking to hire at the lowest possible level that will allow the employees to do the job, so that these employees can be paid less. We have to assume that this situation is wide-spread.

Graddol is honestly describing the economics surrounding teaching and learning English. What will we, as educators, make of it?

You can read Graddol’s book on India online, English Next India: The Future of English in India.

If you use Graddol’s book, Changing English, (U.S., India) in your research, be sure to cite his work:

Graddol, D., Leith, D., Swann, J., Rhys, M. & Gillen, J. (2007). Changing English. New York: Routledge.

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