A global business

by Terence MacNamee

The learning of English as a second language (ESL) is now a flourishing global business. Its biggest market is Asian youth, motivated by the status of English not only as an international means of communication but as a language increasingly used in Asian university education.

The British started the business and still dominate it, but the United States are very present, and Canada has joined the US, with Ireland, Australia and New Zealand also getting in on the act in recent years. These countries now have a large number of schools catering to ESL, and often feeding into universities and colleges in the same country.

Due to geographical proximity, the British traditionally attract people from Europe while the US and Canada, and now Australasia, attract people from Asia. But many young people want to be adventurous, and so you find them going to remote places. Yet they should be aware that the English-speaking world, being so far-flung, is not homogeneous. Depending on where you go to learn, you will get a different variety of spoken and even written English, and the countries will be culturally different.

Learners are usually made aware of the difference between British and American English, and make their choice. Canadian English is widely approved as a compromise: it’s like American English, but also not too far from its British origins.

Australia and New Zealand may seem a bit out of the way at the bottom of the Pacific, but this appeals to the young traveller’s sense of adventure. The English spoken in Australia and New Zealand is quite distinctive, so care should be exercised about picking up the local accent because it may not be well understood elsewhere in the English-speaking world.

In general, young Asians should appreciate that the English-speaking world is far from being a homogeneous mass. There is no neutral English.