welcome to the edge

Market, Supermarket and Language-market

Multilingualism series 1

By Anthony Fornaro

Listen to Tony while you read his words

“You can find that in aisle 12, just after the south-eastern languages sector” imagine hearing this when asking to a supermarket clerk where to find your favourite soda. This is, of course, very unlikely to happen in real life but gives the idea of how fast the concept of language market is developing nowadays. As per all the other type of markets, also the language one is based on things that are given a value, and ‘exchanged’, in order to satisfy wants and/or necessities; these things are languages. Put it simply, languages are becoming useful to produce, distribute, communicate and sell in the new economy.
Now, to better understand the idea of language market embedded in a new economy we must consider two important factors: globalisation and capitalism. We live in a globalised world where there are no barriers, and we freely move from one country to the other and where therefore communication between speakers of different languages is vital. But we also live in a capitalised world based on the power of economy, where everything moves in the name of Mammon, the god of money. These two factors have landed on the language market when the English language  started being used in the whole globe as the Lingua Franca.
To make it clear, since people started travelling – in the more modern sense of the word a few centuries ago – also markets started opening borders and this expansion required the management of communication across linguistic differences, this meant that individuals able to speak English as an additional language became more precious in many sectors, from advertising to tourism, passing by call centres! In fact, did you know that almost 2 billions people are learning and using English worldwide? Out of this impressive number we find that only some of those learners/users are going through the process of studying English efficiently in the public education. Such is the case of Korea where they finally decided to teach English, in English – as if that should even be an option! The rest are learners who badly seek qualified English teachers. This demand gave birth to a huge branch of the language market which is the TEFL (Teaching English as Foreign Language) tourism. Many native speakers, sometimes with no qualifications or zero/very little knowledge of teaching, decide to travel the globe advertising themselves as English teachers for voluntary work, CV building or the desire to do something different. All this moving around of teachers, and wanna-be teachers, created a real business, where language courses are in high demand all over the world and more (possibly) qualified teachers are required.
Being a native speaker of English, is then a gift as it gives the ability to understand, and be understood, from more than one-third of the global population, and most of all to, virtually, never be jobless. But is there a point when this gift born within can actually become a curse? Some linguists actually warn about this, pointing at the risk to be narrowed in the ‘Anglo-bunker’ – a ‘bunker’ where only English is spoken; usually refers to English speaking countries where the learning of other languages other than English is massively underplayed. This could lead to loosing somehow empathy towards the rest of the non-English-speakers world. This might be true, or might not, the matter is that English in the new economy is THE language and that whether you are a native speaker or a proficient second language speaker, your competences will always be rewarded – not just in teaching. We should then talk to George Clooney to amend his most famous Martini advert: no English no party!

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