A headline of this kind must have appeared in a thousand newspapers and magazines in recent years. “English Rules” is one of those articles presenting to the world a scenario suggesting the universality of the language, its spread and the likelihood* of its continuation. Retrospectives and predictions were written in the same vein,* with several major newspapers and magazines finding in the subjects of the English language an apt symbol for the themes of globalization, diversification, progress and identity. Television programmes and series, too, addressed the issue, and achieved world-wide audiences. Certainly, by the turn of the century, the topic must have made contact with millions of popular intuitions at a level which had simply not existed a decade before.
These kinds of statement seem so obvious that most people would give them hardly a second thought. Of course English is a global language, they would say. You hear it on television spoken by politicians from all over the world. Wherever you travel, you see English signs and advertisements. Whenever you enter a hotel or restaurant in a foreign city, they will understand English, and there will be an English menu.
But how does a language come to achieve a global status? A language achieves a genuinely global status when it develops a special role that is recognized in every country. This might seem like stating the obvious, but it is not, because the “special role” has many facets. Such a role will be most evident in countries where large numbers of people speak the language as a mother tongue – in the case of English, this would mean the USA, Canada, Britain, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, several Caribbean countries and a sprinkling of* other territories. However, no language has ever been spoken by a mother-tongue majority in more than a few countries (Spanish leads, in this respect, in some twenty countries, chiefly in Latin America), so mother-tongue use by itself cannot give a language global status. To achieve such a status, a language has to be taken up by other countries in the world. They must decide to give it a special place within their communities.
There are two main ways in which this can be done. Firstly, a language can be made the official language of a country, to be used as a medium of communication in such domains as government, the law courts, the media, and the educational system. To get on in these societies, it is essential to master the official language as early in life as posssible. Such a language is described as a “second language” because it is seen as a complement to a person’s mother tongue, or “first language”. The role of an official language is today best illustrated by English, which now has some kind of special status in over seventy countries, such as Ghana, Nigeria, India and Singapore. This is far more than the status achieved by any other language –though French, German, Spanish, Russian and Arabic are among those which have also developed a considerable official use.
Secondly, a language can be made a priority in a country’s foreign-language teaching system, even though this language has no official status. It becomes the language which children are most likely to be taught when they arrive in school. English is now the language most widely taught as a foreign language –in over 100 countries, such as China, Russia, Germany, Spain, Egypt and Brazil– and in many other countries it is emerging as the chief foreign language to be encountered in schools. Often displacing another language in the process.
Adapted from English as a Global Language, D. Crystal (1997)
- likelihood: probabilitat / probabilidad
- in the same vein: en la mateixa línia (d’estil, pensament) / siguiendo la misma línea (idea, estilo)
- a sprinkling of: una petita quantitat de / una pequeña cantidad de
PART ONE: READING COMPREHENSIONChoose the best answer according to the text.
1. Why did television programmes achieve world-wide audiences? Because...
a) they referred to English as a global language.2. By the turn of the century, the topic of English as a global language…
b) they were in English.
c) their audiences were English speakers.
d) newspapers and magazines publicized them.
a) was already very popular.3. On television, we hear politicians…
b) was not as popular as it had been fifty years before.
c) was much more popular than it is nowadays.
d) did not exist.
a) from all over the world who speak English.4. English…
b) who speak English only when they visit England or the USA.
c) travelling and seeing English signs and advertisements.
d) addressing English audiences.
a) will be understood in hotels and restaurants in the future.5. Spanish leads because...
b) is used only in the menus of hotels and restaurants of English cities.
c) will be understood very soon in hotels and restaurants everywhere.
d) is understood and used in restaurants and hotels everywhere.
a) it is spoken as a second language all over the world.6. An official language of a country…
b) there are around twenty countries where only mothers speak it.
c) in Latin America it is the only language spoken.
d) it is spoken as a mother tongue in more countries than any other language.
a) is used together with another language in the government, the law courts, the media and the educational system.7. India is one of the countries where English is…
b) achieves the role of being a global language.
c) is only spoken in that country.
d) is used by the government, the media, the educational system, the law courts, among other domains.
a) a “second language”.8. Is English taught as a foreign language in many countries? Yes...
b) the mother tongue of most of the population.
c) not spoken by mothers.
d) the mothers’ first language.
a) where it is the only official language.
b) in many countries where it is not the official language.
c) but it is being displaced by other languages.
d) in almost one hundred countries, including China and Russia.