English as a global languageOnce upon a time a person would come into contact with a foreign language only if a member of the upper class or when going to glamorous international holiday resorts. The foreign language spoken would vary on the region: in central and eastern Europe it would have been German, in southern Europe French and in northern Europe English. Today, it has become more common to meet somebody who speaks to some measure a foreign language and, especially among the younger generations, this will invariably be English.
One of the effects of the Commonwealth has been that English has been adopted as the official or de facto language in many countries throughout the world. Until a few years ago there were just two acknowledged forms of English: British English (BE) and American English (AE) ? even though for the British AE is/used to be considered a dialect. Nowadays we can refer to Standard Scottish English, Australian English, Canadian English, Irish English, etc.
Globalization has influenced many aspects of our lives today: lifestyle, food, behaviour, but above all language. English has become the global language par excellence. We are told that if you know English you can communicate wherever you are and with whomever you talk to. The problem is, however, which English to learn as there is more than one English language.
Today learners of English no longer absorb the language passively, they tend to transform it grammatically, lexically and also change its pronunciation. Due to this globalization when travelling around the world, especially in Asia, one finds a mixture of local languages and English used in advertising. These forms of language have been grouped together under the name of ?Englishes? or ?New English?.
New varieties of English, such as Mid-Atlantic English or Euro-English, create new problems as to which form to teach to those who want to use English as an international language. English teachers should ponder on how the language is used on a global level to be able to address the changed requirements of contemporary society. students should be taught and encouraged to familiarise with the different accents, structures and lexical choices. Within Europe, English is more and more considered a neutral language, a kind of no man?s land where the speakers of different L1s meet to communicate even though this creates a loss of the cultural dimension contained in the national languages.
Unfortunately, a language has to pay a price to become and stay an international idiom: English has progressively lost its association with the Anglo-American world. This means that the study of English is no longer connected to British, North American, Australian, Canadian cultures, but has simply become a means of communication, which transcends national and international borders, without its socio-cultural background, and is differently interpreted and used depending on the background of those using it. The idea of learning a language so as to be able to understand a different culture is becoming less common.
The more the people who speak a language, the more it is geographically and culturally distant from its place of origin, the greater its variations. It is interesting to note that the first American talking pictures which were shown in england had to be subtitled. This same process of differentiation could, in the long term, create varieties of English that differ so much from one another as to be mutually unintelligible. Its status as an international language, its strength, could in this case become its greatest weakness.
Those who have English as their native tongue now have to adapt to new accents and new emerging non-native varieties, and have to step down from their ivory tower of ?native speakers? to be able to communicate effectively. To do this they will have to come to terms with the pronunciation and lexis of the international variety and abandon, at least for the international scene, idiomatic forms and pronunciations which are mainly ?local?. However, the attitude towards non native
varieties will have to be modified, widening the range of acceptable forms and learning to give them new sociolinguistic meanings.