English and Economic Development: Myth or Reality?
I listened to David Graddol last when he spoke at TESOL conference on 27 March 2014 at Portland, Oregon, USA. Listening to David today, I realised that his TESOL speech was a prelude to his present plenary at IATEFL 2014. When I started listening to him this afternoon, as per the Indian local time, I was delighted to note that he had got a nice platform to elucidate one of the megatrends about which he had referred to at the TESOL 2014 Conference. On that day David explored how demographic and economic trends in the 21st century were affecting Global English and language policies worldwide.
The theme of David’s speech was “Does the learning of English bring economic benefit?” Looking at him on the screen of my computer, I wondered, “Is he a linguist or an economist?” It was amazing to note how an applied linguist could handle the issues connected with the economic development so academically and effortlessly. The lucidity of his presentation, the felicity of his expression and the depth of his vision made me exclaim, ‘You are great, David’!
During the hour long session, David critically explored the idea that ‘English brings economic benefits’. He raised the question, ‘Is the economic rationale just disguising a new kind of linguistic imperialism? Or does it genuinely bring benefits to those investing in English?’
Citing specific examples, David explored critically the role English has been playing in different sectors of the economy, especially the growing services economy. He analysed the implications of this emerging phenomenon for educational policy and he did it quite dispassionately and convincingly. You may disagree with his perspective, but you cannot dispute his prediction. He was drawing our attention to a global phenomenon that has been shaping the course of English language teaching throughout the globe.
David’s forte is his extensive as well as intensive research in ELT in three countries, India, China and Brazil. I was amazed to note his repeated reference to the developing economy of these three countries.
The relationship between English and the economy, corporate values based on economic efficiency, the role of the Call Centres, the supply chain, the Dependency ratio…. David dealt with all these issues quite dexterously without being pedantic. Economics was always a dreaded subject for me during my school days. On listening to David today, I wished I had an Economics teacher like David who could discuss economic theories, terminology and issues in such a lucid manner. What David says impresses you infinitely, but how he says convinces you permanently. The logic of his argument, the evidences on which he bases his argument and the language in which he presents his arguments and draws his conclusions create a lasting impression on his audience.
Global English is indebted to the business enterprise. The Virginia Company took English to America and the East India Company brought English to India. It is indeed a coincidence that the Director of the English Company is now predicting and outlining the future of English! The simultaneous expansion of English in the West and the East was due to the economic history of mankind and the present expansion of English is due the pressure of the emerging global economy.
David’s plenary attended by 2500 delegates assembled at Harrogate, UK and watched by thousands of virtual delegates has given us enough food for thought. Like all of you, I too look forward to listening to him once again as early as possible. “English Next, Brazil” will be published soon this year, David announced. What about “David Next”?