English to be spoken by half of the world's population within 10 years

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Half the world's population will be speaking or learning English by 2015, researchers say. Two billion people are expected to start learning English within a decade and three billion will speak it, says a British Council estimate.

Half the world's population will be speaking or learning English by 2015, researchers say. Two billion people are expected to start learning English within a decade and three billion will speak it, says a British Council estimate.

Other languages, such as French, risk becoming the casualties of this "linguistic globalisation". But the boom will be over by 2050 and the English-language teaching industry will have become a victim of its own success, says David Graddol, author of the report, The Future of English.

Mr Graddol's research, published yesterday at the British Council's Going Global Conference on International Education in Edinburgh, was based on a computer model developed to estimate demand for English-language teaching around the world. The lecturer, who has worked in education and language studies at the Open University for the past 25 years, said the model charted likely student numbers through to 2050.

It was compiled by looking at various estimates from the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) on education provision, demographic projections, government education policies and international student mobility figures. The impact of educational innovations and other developments affecting the world population including the Chinese govern-ment's policy of one baby per family were also factored in.

Based on its findings, Mr Graddol has predicted that the world is about to be hit by a tidal wave of English. "Many governments, especially in countries which have relatively recently gained independence, are introducing the teaching of English under a utilitarian banner.

"The native languages of countries such as Malaysia and Sri Lanka are often almost synonymous with their new-found independence and, as such, are closely protected.

"But English predominates in the business world and for such countries to be able to compete for work, including lucrative outsourcing contracts, English is being pushed heavily from kindergarten on."

The potential bonanza on offer from outsourcing means even maths and science are being taught in English at secondary schools in Malaysia, he added. But demand for English teaching would drop as children progress through academia, and more universities across the world choose to teach in the language, the report predicted.

Mr Graddol also estimated that the boom would be over by 2050. "English-language students will be down from two billion to 500 million then," he said. "Increasingly, as English spreads across the globe, more people will become bilingual, even multi-lingual and such skills are highly prized in business. But Britain has not got the best reputation for learning other languages."

The report also showed that English was not the only language spreading, and the world, far from being dominated by English, was to become more multi-lingual. Mr Graddol said: "Chinese, Arabic and Spanish are all popular, and likely to be languages of the future."

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