English will help make its speakers and those countries which invest in it richer. This is the economic rationale given by Dr David Graddol, Director of The English Company (UK) Ltd.
But as the extraordinary growth in learning English continues around the world, and language skills become increasingly important for businesses and organisations in the battle to acquire and retain talent, this statement becomes more complex: Is the economic rationale just disguising a new kind of linguistic imperialism? Or does it genuinely bring benefits to those investing in English?
Graddol, whose company provides consultancy and publishing services in applied linguistics, has been at the forefront of the critical analysis of the economic benefits of English since the 1990s. He has written several renowned books that set the new agenda for understanding the growing importance of English as an international language; highlighted the importance of English in countries such as Brazil, China and India; and also provided overviews of English in global education.
At this year’s Languages and Business Forum, taking place in Berlin on December 3, 2014, Graddol will take this questioning further.
“I will explore critically the role English now plays in different sectors of the economy, especially the growing services economy, and the implications of this for educational policy,” Graddol says.
“For example, what levels of proficiency are needed for different job functions? Is the current trend towards teaching English in primary schools a necessary consequence of economic globalisation?”
Graddol highlights that as different economies have different job market demands, language level requirements are not easily defined. Instead of adopting a ‘one size fits all’ approach when developing language skills for business, organisations need to start taking into account: what are we actually trying to achieve?
Critical questions are being asked about the amount and level of language training that should be provided by companies, the methods that should be used – for instance the added value of ‘tailor-made’ materials versus standardised tools – as well as the time period over which such training should take place.
The Languages and Business Forum Chairperson Ian McMaster, editor-in-chief of the bi-monthly business English magazine Business Spotlight, says these are the types of issues that will be discussed when professionals from internationally oriented companies; HR, management coaches and consultants; academic institutions; ministries and others come together at the upcoming event.
“The increasing international challenges facing companies, combined with the pressure on employee time and financial resources, make it essential for firms to optimise their language and communication training. Supported by leading experts from the field, the Forum will examine key elements of learning strategies, including planning and design, and the effective use of digital technology,” he says.
Providing this insight will be industry experts such as Tim Phillips, a specialist in international communication and language training in the business sector; Deborah Capras, a Business English author, editor and trainer; and freelance author and trainer Evan Frendo. They will introduce participants to the newest developments in business communication.
In addition, an important aspect of the Forum will be the exchange of best practices and knowledge that comes from the participants themselves. The one-day event will provide a platform for this important networking and knowledge-sharing to take place.