English as a world language – paradox, dilemma or balance?

A report by researcher David Graddol forecasts English as a world language….with 120 million children learning it in Chinese primary schools – and many other countries embedding English-language learning in their scolarity. (BBC) .

In France the debate rages whether to start it in primary school. A recent survey evaluating competences of 14-15 year old kids has shown France in neat disadvantage if compared to countries like Sweden, Finland, Norway, the Netherlands, Denmark and Spain, where English is obligatory . While some defend the priority of English over other languages for practical reasons (the sheer number of people who speak it around the world), others insist on the idea of the importance of being exposed to a number of different languages from an early age. A neurophysiological reason: the earlier you learn a language, the more chances you have of speaking it well as from the age of 10-11, your brain synapses start becoming less active and flexible.

Although France has not scored well in the results of the survey, it is one of the countries that offers most possibilities in learning languages at secondary school. In the present system, at the age of 11, students choose their first foreign language, two years after a second and in the first year of high school they can choose a third. Options vary from English (96%) to Russian, Arabic and Chinese. If it adopts a second language in primary school, it will be one of the first countries to promote an early plurilingual start.

In Britain, Graddol is worried about the supremacy of English and warns “The fact that the world is learning English is not particularly good news for native speakers who cannot also speak another language. The world is rapidly becoming multi-lingual and English is only one of the languages people in other countries are learning”.

Here at school kids have the priviledge to co-exist with two languages from the very start: Portuguese and French. Some of them speak yet another language at home . They start English and eleven and have the choice between Spanish and German two years later and may also take Latin or Greek as an option.

I am lucky. When they start English at eleven, the synapses have been activated and the fact we live in a multi-cultural city like Sao Paulo and are exposed to different people from different origins and walks of life, makes them much more open and motivated to learn new languages.

This is my last day before the summer holidays …my heart is light and happy…the results in English at the baccalaureat are excellent (average in my class this year 15.5/20) Congratulations class of 2004!

2 thoughts on “English as a world language – paradox, dilemma or balance?”

  1. Thanks Claude…Congratulations to all the teachers (the whole department) who, at different times, have followed this class for 7 years. There are only three of us…but we try to do our best :-).


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