This plenary talk discusses the growth in English learning in relation to economic development.

Speaker(s): 
David Graddol

About the session

English and economic development

The extraordinary growth in the learning of English around the world has largely been premised on the economic rationale that English will help make its speakers and those countries which invest in it richer. In this plenary I will critically explore the idea that English brings economic benefits. Is the economic rationale just disguising a new kind of linguistic imperialism? Or does it genuinely bring benefits to those investing in English? In this presentation I will explore critically the role English now plays in different sectors of the economy, especially the growing services economy, and the implications of this for educational policy. For example, is the current trend towards teaching English in primary schools a necessary consequence of economic globalisation? What target level of proficiency should be set at key stages in education? Is it necessary for everyone to learn English? Or to learn it to the same level? Using the Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR) to identify functional proficiency levels, I will discuss some recent global educational and employment trends. Drawing on my recent work in India, China and Brazil I will explore some of the shared issues that have arisen with regard to English language education in these emergent economies, as well as some of the key differences. Finally, I will address what I think is a key issue: does the economic rationalist argument for the massive push for English teaching around the world really make sense? Is it delivering the supposed economic benefits? And what are the potential social, cultural and other costs?

About the speaker

David Graddol is Director of The English Company (UK) Ltd which provides consultancy and publishing services in applied linguistics, with a special focus on English language and education policy. David worked for many years in the Faculty of Education and Language Studies at the UK Open University and during 2010-2011 was Visiting Associate Professor at City University of Hong Kong. He has been involved in ELT projects in China, India and Latin America since the early 1990s. In The Future of English? (1997) David set out a new agenda for understanding the growing importance of English as an international language. English Next (2006), English Next India (2010) and English Next Brazil (2014), provide overviews of English in global education – all published by the British Council. Profiling English in China: The Pearl River Delta (2013), for Cambridge English Language Assessment, examines public discourses and language landscapes in south China. (All these titles can be freely downloaded from the internet).

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