The impact of globalization on our society has had a profound influence on the ways people teach and learn foreign languages. Following the spread of colonization and the increased need for countries to develop trade relationships, it became more and more common for smaller populations to learn major world languages in order to communicate effectively with larger nations.
By examining the past evolution of language and the current shifting tendencies, we can gain a better understanding of how global cultures impact the way we teach and learn languages around the world. Determining likely future predictions as to how language will continue to be influenced by our changing societies can enable educators to teach effectively and help students learn efficiently.
According to Senior Education Specialist Pasi Sahlberg’s 2004 study on “Teaching and Globalization”, the process has a “paradoxical” effect on society. While globalization helps to bring cultures together through the use of common languages, it also segregates impoverished populations and countries, or those with slower technological development. “The challenge for future public education,” Sahlberg argues, “is to give priority to teaching ethics and a sense of global responsibility that go beyond the bounds of the knowledge economy.”
Currently, the effectiveness of teachers is evaluated through external means – via competition and testing to assess a student’s comprehension of the subject material. As education systems adjust to the effects of globalization, Sahlberg says, “new global environments are characterized by flexibility, diversity, increased competition, and unpredictable change.”
However, Sahlberg’s research shows that a majority of educational institutions from New Zealand, Chile, and even the United States disagree with “the common belief that increased competition among schools … leads to improved teaching and learning.” As educators seek to improve the quality of language education in the coming decades and adjust instruction to align with increased globalization, it will be vital for teachers to look at alternative methods of evaluating student progress and assessing knowledge.
Schools have the opportunity to shift with our globalizing world. According to Sahlberg, the future of public education in the “knowledge society” will likely see schools becoming “learning organizations” – partnering with other human development organizations to encourage youth to use global language responsibly and ethically, in communications with other cultures throughout the globe.
The benefit to learning global languages like English, particularly in smaller, less developed countries, is that it provides students with a wider range of career opportunities and communication networks. However, in “The Role of Language in Globalization: Language, Culture, Gender and Institutional Learning,” University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Francois Victor Tochon says “the idea that English will become the world language is a nicely funded myth.”
“Presently, 85% of the speakers of this planet do not speak English and there is no indication that their percentage might change significantly during the coming decade,” Tochon states in his essay. He goes on to explain that a more likely scenario will see future populations speaking a “basket of regional and continental languages,” including further variations of the English dialects spoken by various cultures around the world.
There is still much to gain for foreign learners studying English – but Tochon adds that these students will learn more than just a new language. With it, he says, English brings “a large barrage of Western preconceptions.” Foreign students who learn English will be exposed to a “model of society” with lifestyles and customs that may “antagonize their own tradition and culture.”
In the coming decades, educators should work to ensure that the teaching of English and other major languages is less about the widespread distribution of Western products – Hollywood films, pop music, McDonald’s – and more about ensuring successful communication and ethical interactions with other cultures. Students who are learning global languages need to separate the language from the culture – and maintain a respect and understanding for their own cultures.
Learners should also pursue studies in their ancestral languages – not only to prevent further language loss, but to ensure that society as a whole can benefit from the variety of cultures we have right now – and have had in the past. There are parts of the world where, despite the increasing shift to English or other global languages, ancestral dialects remain a valued aspect of local culture. Students can learn from populations in Singapore and Hong Kong to see how continuing to speak traditional languages can provide benefits beyond communication skills.
Looking to the future
In Tochon’s paper, he states that “language is more than communication: it represents experience and social attitudes, and links knowledge with demands for group worth.” This is an important thing for both educators and learners to remember in the coming years, as the methods of teaching and learning languages are forced to shift to accommodate our ever-changing world.
While the future may see a very different kind of environment for students and instructors, schools will be able to offer an opportunity for learners to gain a deeper understanding of our society’s diverse cultures – and how we can cultivate a respect and appreciation for them. By teaching students ethically responsible ways of communicating, we can ensure that the continued globalization of the planet encourages partnership and collaboration between populations and nations.
As Sahlberg states, “education is paramount in helping young people learn to live together in a secure globalized world.” In the coming decades, teachers and students need to be looking for ways to ensure that tomorrow’s youth learn these skills effectively and efficiently – enabling them to communicate in our “knowledge society” in a way that will benefit not only themselves and their own cultural community, but that will be a benefit to our planet as a whole.
1. Claire Kamsch, Teaching Foreign Languages in an Era of Globalization
2. Salikoko S. Mufwene, Colonisation, Globalisation, and the Future of Languages in the Twenty-first Century
3. F. V. Tochon, The Role of Language in Globalization: Language, Culture, Gender and Institutional Learning
4. Pasi Sahlberg, Teaching and Globalization