The impact of world internet coverage on ESL

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So as the title suggests, there is of course some kind of impact and more than anything else, the impact of the domination of English on the internet. As the internet increases in size (number of sites available, etc), so will the predominance of English as the preferred language of choice. But what kind of impact will that have on the esl community – or more importantly the esl business community.

The obvious response is that there will be more people needing to learn English, and so in turn language schools will boom, as too will online esl learning sites. But will this really be the trend?

Already there are clear signals that the learning of English (though still extremely important) is in fact changing. As more people learn English, so too is the expectation that English should be learned by all. But exactly the kind of English that should be learned will possibly vary widely.

We all think that the good old BBC British English is the tried and true English of choice by all, and for the most part is true, but as the spread of English gets bigger, so does the diversity of the language.

What is in fact happening is that different forms of English are emerging. These forms are generally quite a step away from what we all know as English. The simple examples of these forms are languages such as ‘Singlish’ or ‘Manglish’ or ‘Chinglish’ or ‘Spanglish’ and so on.

The people who are speaking these languages are learning their English not from certified English language centres, but from their own countries compulsory secondary school courses. Countries such as Malaysia and Singapore have always had English as a second language with their people achieving varying degrees of competency dependent on the level of English spoken by their own indigenous English speaking community.  Then there are the Chinese who have simply adopted a massive Government push to promote English in primary and secondary school with some startling results.

However even though there has been a push in the government sector for English proficiency, what has emerged is not only this new strain of English (or ‘Singlish’ etc), but also a proudness by the people, in their adoption of that uniquely Singaporean or Malaysian English. What’s happening is that the people now don’t want to adopt a BBC British accent or be absolutely perfect grammatically, they want to hold their version of English as that thing that captures the ‘nuances of their own culture’ within it.

So as the internet expands, so does the use of English, but one thing is becoming clearer, comprehension of what is read must be perfect, even though the spoken or written version of it doesn’t have to be. This then poses an interesting situation.

Should a person be as accurate a speaker as they are a reader? Well one would think so, but the truth is that that is seldom the case. What goes inside your head, doesn’t necessary reflect what is going to come out. There are all kinds of reasons for this. Sometimes the people simple cannot pronounce the words, though they can understand them. Sometimes the people don’t have a cultural perspective on what they read, therefore to put it into their own words is difficult.

The ultimate thing is that even if they did speak perfect English, those around them often wouldn’t be able to understand them, as they too would be speaking the ‘Manglish/Singlish’, and would prefer the person speak in this way to be understood.

The other reason is that the people around them don’t want them to speak in the perfect English because they don’t believe it is true culturally to them. They want the English they know that has the cultural connection.

I even know myself people who speak two kinds of English. The BBC perfect one, and the Manglish one. They are adept at pulling it out whenever they feel it is the right time and place, and it’s all about feeling comfortable in the environment they are in.  Are these people in fact bi-lingual then? Perhaps not ‘bi-lingual’ but more likely to be considered perhaps ‘bi-accentual’ or even ‘bi-English-ual’, meaning being able to slip confidently in and out of the different accents and nuances depending on the situation.

Some may say that the learning of a language is a bit like the learning of music. Some want to get a job working in the national symphony orchestra where they play all the usual classical pieces perfectly, and some just want to learn music so that they can compose, and play their own original music. So too is the learning of English. You can learn it to speak like the Queen or you can learn it to change it into what works for you.

So with this emerging new strain of English-es, the question then comes, will this impact ESL? Well yes! But will the future still be full of ‘English’ Language Centres? Where people learn only the true British English. Or will the future see the predominance of ‘Manglish’ language centres?

After considering these issues, what do you think?

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