What are the Cultural Implications of Having English as a Global Language?
People around the world are choosing to learn the English language for several reasons. Across the globe, English has become one of the languages people are taught in order to succeed in their career endeavors or simply a basic skill to have. It has grown so much in popularity and necessity that it has become a requirement for many children in schools across the globe. As a native English speaker, I find this incredibly useful for when I’m traveling or living abroad. When in doubt, I can try using my native tongue and more often than not someone is able to respond in a language in which I am comfortable communicating. However, many challenges accompany this phenomenon. For one, native English speakers are not pressured to learn other languages as they are not as commonly used in business settings. Secondly, there is little incentive for native English speakers to try to learn the language of the country where they may be traveling as they know they can rely on the English to get them by. Finally, with more people speaking English there is less of a push to maintain other languages around the world, and those less predatory languages are rapidly declining in their number of speakers.
This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Sylvie C. Please note that this blog post might not necessarily represent the beliefs or opinions of ITTT.
Bilingualism in Canada
Having grown up in Canada it was mandatory to learn some French in school. Lucky for me, I was enrolled in a french immersion program and therefore was taught entirely in French for most of my primary and secondary education. However, most people take only a few french classes in high school and forget it immediately as there is limited opportunity to use the language in most parts of the country. We are not, however, taught any indigenous languages. I grew up on the ancestral territory of the Musqueam, Coast Salish, and Tsleil-waututh nations and did not learn a single word from any of their languages. While our government deems it necessary to speak the colonial languages it makes no effort to value and incorporate the indigenous languages of its own country. Their argument being, of course, that they are not as useful in everyday speech. They are certainly correct, but is that not a product of habit? Are they not as “useful” because we haven’t given them the same value and power as the English and French languages. If we continue to value colonial/predatory languages over indigenous, local languages they will surely become less and less “useful” to a greater populous.
Reasons to Learn Other Languages than English
This brings me to my next point. By having an entire global community that can speak in the same language what is the incentive to learn any others? I have traveled to many countries and as much as I would love to pride myself in being culturally sensitive and aware of being respectful, it is far easier for everyone involved if we communicate in a shared language. I find it more and more true that communities around the world are adapting their culture and language to fit the needs of western/English speaking tourists. Not only do we lose the experience of learning or understand the struggle of not being able to communicate, but we lose the authenticity of the cultural experience. Native English speakers are tourists that expect many levels of their comforts wherever they go. They expect to be catered to as they believe it is their right as a tourist and that the host nation should make it accessible and comfortable for foreign visitors. There is little effort to be made when the roles are reversed, however. When Vietnamese tourists are visiting New York city are there New Yorkers willingly speaking a second language to make things easier for tourists? Absolutely not. Rather there is minimal to no effort made by the local population to aid them in their native language as languages are seen in a hierarchy, with English being at the top.
Finally, I will argue that the English language has become a status symbol; and as native English speakers, we are the ones who are actively condoning that status. Many indigenous languages across Canada are dying out at a rapid rate. When grandparents die out there is often no one to carry on the language of their ancestors. Even to many indigenous people, it is far more valuable to them economically and socially to speak predominantly English. Of course, this disconnect between generations and language use among indigenous families is rooted in the colonial effort to assimilate and Christianize indigenous people, but that's another whole can of worms. In our efforts to create a global community through the use of a shared language we have hierarchized cultures and forced a progression away from cultural diversity and towards the continued westernization of the global community.
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For now, I will argue that English is a colonial language that has been used by governments to ensure the continued power of western culture over others. While I agree that it is important for people around the world to learn English as a tool for getting a job, I also believe that this is a shame. I believe that it is important that non-native English speakers should be raised to believe that their language and culture is equally important. Rather than strive to be more western, they should be able to feel proud of their language and cultural background. This is up to western systems to give back value to indigenous and less predatory languages around the world. Furthermore, from the ground up, this task is up to English teachers to make sure they educate their students that English/western cultures are no more valuable than that of their students. As English teachers, we have the authority and the responsibility to ensure that people who learn English around the world also learn the value of their own culture and the importance of the preservation of their own authentic cultural experience.
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