Thursday, 22 November 2007

Prepare to wince

In his recent article "Whose English?" in the Financial Times, Michael Skapinker describes the growing popularity of English in the non-English speaking world. For example, one South Korean politician is promising that if elected he will greatly increase the availability of English language teaching in the country so that families are not "separated for English learning". That anecdote gives an insight into just how much importance people in developing countries give to learning English. They will risk family break-up in order to travel abroad to study English. There's a video on YouTube of a "crazy" mass English lesson in China that's possibly evidence of the same attitude.

Based on the assertions of scholars like David Crystal that 1.5 billion people can speak English at some level, Skapinker notes that "non-native speakers now outnumber native English-speakers by three to one". That could mean that the spoken English of the future may not be the English spoken in Britain or United States. It may have a more international flavour. That kind of English may well make native-speakers wince, as Skapinker suggests, and may give people like Lynne Truss apoplexy, but I think it may well happen and we'll just have to get used to it.