[EDLING:1256] English is for everybody
Francis M. Hult
fmhult at DOLPHIN.UPENN.EDU
Sat Feb 18 22:33:03 UTC 2006
English is for everybody
Comment by WONG SULONG
HERES food for thought for our planners and decision-makers, particularly
those involved in education. Within a decade or thereabouts, English will
become a near-universal basic skill.
This means employers will regard it as a given that job applicants are fluent
in English. The competitive advantage that English-speaking candidates have
will no longer exist.
Instead, employers will be looking out for candidates who are bilingual,
possibly even trilingual meaning English plus another language, particularly
Chinese, Spanish and Japanese, which are emerging as global languages as well.
This is one of the major conclusions of a landmark study entitled English Next
by David Graddol, a distinguished linguist for the British Council, the
organisation that promotes English around the world.
Native English-speaking countries and people in Britain, the United States,
Canada and Australia have enjoyed a huge economic (possibly running into
billions of dollars), cultural and social advantage over the rest of the
world, with the dominance of English in the world of commerce, medicine,
communications and music.
But the study said this situation was changing fast.
It said that all over the world from China to Chile, from Japan to Thailand
governments were investing big money to encourage their citizens to learn
All new police recruits in Beijing must pass an oral English test; and by
2008, four out of five Beijing policemen will be able to speak English when
the city hosts the Olympics. This does not include the tens of thousands of
English-speaking interpreters, tour guides and hotel staff.
There are more than 500 million native English-speaking people in the world;
within a decade two billion more people will be able to speak English as a
second language, making English the language spoken by most people (there are
1.1 billion Mandarin-speakers).
Although the study focuses on the major ramifications of the universality of
English on the native English-speaking world the main conclusion is that
native English speakers will lose their economic advantage the acceleration
of English as the worlds lingua franca also has important ramifications for
Malaysia, which is struggling to keep pace with globalisation and competition,
particularly from our neighbours.
It used to be that east of India, Malaysians and Singaporeans had the best
command of English and the language was used extensively. This gave Malaysians
an economic advantage over many other Asians a fact that was unappreciated
at that time. Unfortunately, this advantage was frittered away.
Dont get me wrong. As an independent nation, there is no question that Bahasa
Malaysia is the primary language of our nation. It is now a very dynamic
language. At the same time, I feel the development of Bahasa can and should go
hand in hand with the promotion of English. And if one can pick up a third or
fourth language, why not?
Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi and his predecessor Tun Dr
Mahathir Mohamad realise the importance of English as an economic and global
language. In the last years of his administration, Dr Mahathir took some bold
decisions to reintroduce English in schools, and Pak Lah is continuing this
policy of reviving English in schools and tertiary institutions.
The Government has set aside RM100mil to retrain unemployed graduates, and
improving English is part of this programme. According to Human Resources
Minister Datuk Dr Fong Chan Onn, some 10,600 graduates have taken part in the
The appointment of Datuk Mustapa Mohamed, an economist by training and
formerly in charge of the Economic Planning Unit, to the Higher Education
portfolio portends well. A lot is expected of him. The development of human
capital is critical to the economy.
Education as a trade item has grown by leaps and bounds over the past two
decades, and Malaysia has an advantage in the development of education as an
export commodity, including the teaching of English to students from China,
Indonesia and Thailand.
Within Asia, Malaysia is a pioneer in the provision of private education.
But there is only a limited window of opportunity for us to exploit this first-
mover advantage before others, such as Singapore and Thailand, catch up with
Malaysia and take this education business away.
When it comes to promotion of English, policymakers and those in charge of
implementation, particularly those involved in education, need a huge dose of
pragmatism. In this respect, time is of the essence.
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