English is such a widespread language that native speakers almost expect everyone they come in contact with to have a working knowledge of the language. Yes, it’s a bit presumptuous, however when there’s an estimated 1.8bn people around the world that speak or have a working knowledge of English, you could be forgiven for thinking this way.
But how has English evolved to become this powerhouse? Furthermore, how important is taking an ESOL course in this current climate?
In short, thanks to the British Empire. Throughout the 19th century, Britain was an active colonial nation. Explorers, sailors and soldiers took the language with them wherever they went and so naturally, English became the official language of many countries under British rule. It is believed that by the time any kind of language policy was created or implemented, English had already reached a number of shores.
Later on, in the 20th century, America rose to become the world’s most powerful nation, thus spreading English further afield to other countries. As a result of this, other languages have been influenced thanks to the introduction through colonisation.
‘English is influencing other languages, and as a lexicographer I see this more clearly in the way that English words have made their way into the modern vocabulary of many of the world’s languages, from French, German, and Greek to Malay, Japanese, and Swahili,’ explained Danica Salazar, the World English Editor for the Oxford English Dictionary (OED).
‘Such lexical influence happens often in places where English has some sort of official status, as in former British or American colonies in Asia, Africa, and the Caribbean, where English is used for various functions and is therefore in sustained contact with local languages, which then absorb a number of English words.’
There are clear examples of this, which Salazar points out.
‘In the Philippines, a former American colony, English is retained as an official language alongside the national language, Filipino, which has taken on a large number of loanwords from English (computer, basketbol, titser, haiskul, the list goes on).’
It isn’t just countries that were once colonised that adopt influences. Places where English has no official status has signs of English influence. Koreans are a good example where their pronunciation has clear parallels with common words in English. Words like aiseukeulim (ice cream) phonetically sounds similar to its English counterpart. But according to Salazar, it’s a two-way street.
‘It’s important to stress that this influence can also be reciprocal: as English comes into contact with more and more of the world’s languages, more and more words from these languages have the opportunity to enter English vocabulary. We can see this in the very interesting phenomenon known as reborrowing, or boomerang words: words that are borrowed by one language from English then borrowed back with a different form and/or meaning. There are many examples from Japan, like cosplay, which comes from Japanese ‘kosupure’, which itself comes from the English expression costume play,’ she says.
English is spoken in more than 50 countries and as mentioned by Regent who offers English Language training, businesses are ‘increasingly being conducted across borders with English often being used as an international language of communication.’ So, if you’re looking to excel career wise, an ESOL qualification to get you on your way to speaking English fluently is an investment worth committing to.
Sarah Donno, the Curriculum Manager, College based ESOL at Edinburgh College reiterates this point, believing it’s hugely important to have a working knowledge of this popular language.
‘Most businesses now look for employees with a good level of English to deal with international customers. Career opportunities and progression are increased tremendously if you have English,’ she explained.
Salazar emphasises however that the need to know English can be quite an individual one. There’s no denying it’s standing on a global scale though.
‘The importance of learning a language depends on every individual or community’s specific communicative needs, but what is undeniable is that English has established itself as a global lingua franca, and is now the dominant medium of communication in such areas of modern life as business, science and technology, diplomacy, tourism, even popular culture and entertainment. For those who wish to be successful in these fields, or those who wish to communicate with people with whom they do not share a common language, having a working knowledge of English is definitely an advantage,’ she points out.
If English is not your first language or if your English is assessed as being below a level 3 then an ESOL course can help you improve your knowledge of English and even help you gain British citizenship.
At Edinburgh College Donno outlines what students can learn when taking their ESOL course.
‘They cover all four skills of reading, writing, speaking and listening along with grammar and vocabulary development. We use a range of course book and authentic materials to make sure that the classes are relevant to the students’ lives. We have general ESOL courses and courses that focus more on study or employability skills to prepare students for further study and the workplace. We can also prepare students for exams such as Cambridge English exams and IELTS.’
Taking an ESOL course is definitely the first step to a fruitful future as students can then progress to higher levels of study.
‘People can progress within ESOL until they reach a higher level of English. Once they have achieved this ( IELST 5.5, Cambridge First or Advanced or SQA ESOL Higher) then they can progress to any other subject or course in the college, progress to university if they have the other academic qualifications or enter the job market,’ Donno said.
It’s never been more important to take an ESOL course to get ahead. Not only is the world of business changing and growing for those looking to improve their professional lives, but the English language itself is slowly changing. The rise of smartphones gives way to new ways of communication through abbreviated phrases and emoji’s. Jeremy Burge, founder and editor of the world’s leading emoji resource Emojipedia, said in a TED talk that the emoji keyboard we see on our phones is the result of more meetings than the traditional QWERTY keyboard has ever seen.
Regardless of the digitalisation of language, it’s imperative to take up an ESOL course to ensure speakers can keep up with the subtle changes to the English language.
When asked about how she sees the English language evolving over the next decade, Salazar shared her thoughts on some interesting developments.
‘What I think is a more interesting trend in the current evolution of English is its increasing localization and hybridization. The many people around the world who have adopted English as a means of communication are now also adapting it to their own specific contexts of use—coining new words, reinventing pronunciation, changing once established grammar rules, mixing English elements with elements from other languages they speak. As English continues to spread, it will also continue to diversify, and give rise to new varieties of English (known as World Englishes), each with their own characteristics that are distinct from what we recognize as Standard British and American English.’
Safeera is Editor of Whatuni and a journalist from Kingston University. Always the inquisitive, her writing spans across a number of areas such as sustainability, fashion, lifestyle and now education. Her belief that you never stop learning and passionate nature has taken her to New York City as part of her degree and across the airwaves on national radio talking about the issues that matter to her.