Pegrum also notes how branding revolves around the “English mother tongue” as the ideal. “Non-natives, too, attach a great value to English native speakers as language goals,” he says, adding that “In Britain, there's additionally a focus on tradition.” He does not see promotion of English over other languages necessarily but rather an emphasis on learning English in a specific location, “That's why Britain concentrates on tradition, whilst other countries might promote modernity.”
“We compete in a tough marketplace. Our product is well-priced. We don't have to promote learning English as such but learning English in the UK,” confirms Cherry Gough, director of English Language Teaching (ELT), the promotion unit of the British Council. “English language schools in the UK are an enormous business,” she says, citing Australia and Canada as the major competitors. Attracting some 440,000 foreign students in 2002 for English Language Teaching (ELT), the United Kingdom is the market leader. The US trails far behind with 238,000 foreign ELT students, a reduction Gough attributes to visa requirements and security.
“We incorporate English language into our general branding activities for Australian education,” says Sue Blundell, executive director of English Australia. In 2002, the ELT sector contributed over US$ 560 million to the Australian economy set against some US$ 3.5 billion from international education.
What are the major elements of the Australian brand? “An education experience that makes a ‘real difference,’ ” explains Blundell. She points to the consistency standards of learning English in Australia as a differentiator: “Australia's main market edge for the English language sector is our compulsory national accreditation scheme and our strong consumer protection laws. That ensures minimum standards across all providers.”
At the Canadian Association of Private Language Schools, Linda Auzins says the key to competing with Australian, British or US providers is branding Canada as a unique location for learning English: “We are all offering the same product: English. So we stress the natural beauty, our clear English accent, clean air, safe environment and cheaper study costs.”
As opposed to “the home of English” approach that the UK employs, Canada's language industry appears too young to brand on the basis of long traditions. “Most of our schools are only about 15 years old,” admits Auzins, “Individual schools spend a lot of money promoting their schools. But there's no shoulder-to-shoulder approach for Canadian schools.” The more than 70 members of the Canadian Association of Private Language Schools generate, just by themselves, some US$ 550 million in benefits to the Canadian economy every year. Auzins feels the Canadian government could do more to promote the industry, which brings in some 143,000 foreign students: “They haven't realized the potential benefits yet,” she says.
The UK has perhaps more than others fully recognized the benefits of an industry that attracts 440,000 students per year, and total revenue of some US$ 3 billion. “And that doesn't include exams and publishing,” says Gough at the British Council. “People need English to get jobs, so they need exam certificates. Schools around the world use UK-based publishing books.” Annually, the British Council earns some $340 million in revenue from clients and customers in 216 towns and cities in 109 countries. The British Council also employs some 1,750 teachers in 126 teaching centers overseas. Together they teach over 1.05 million class hours per year.
But with traditionally non-English-speaking countries from Malaysia to Malta, and Sweden to Singapore, now offering English-language education, is there a threat to the dominant position of English-speaking countries? “I don't believe so,” says English Australia’s Blundell. “They offer a different product. There will always be demand for the Australian product.”
Auzins, from the Canadian Association of Private Language Schools, agrees: “It's better to learn a language where it is spoken. In Sweden, English is not spoken on the streets. In Toronto or Vancouver, people speak the language on the streets.”
Probal Dasgupta, linguistics professor at Hyderabad University, and dean of the school of humanities, disagrees. He says there is no image problem when selling and branding “Indian English,” despite the fact that only around three to five percent of Indians (a tiny minority), speak English as a mother tongue: “Some Indians count as native-equivalent speakers of English, and it is they who can do this selling effectively,” he says. “The Indian English is a label often used to characterize Indian lapses from the pedagogic norm, but increasingly it is being used to describe standard speaking practices in the Anglophone elite in India.”
In his spare time, interestingly, Dasgupta doubles as an Esperanto poet and vice-president of the Academy of Esperanto. The linguistics professor advocates Esperanto, the easy-to-learn language, rather than complicated English with its links to the world's superpower: “Bush and Blair have become Esperanto’s best friends,” he jokes while bemoaning English's role as the language of power.
Dasgupta may have a point. When the US (primarily with its British allies), moved into Iraq on 20 March 2003, there was an upsurge in enrollments for French language courses throughout the Arab world. Even in the enlarged European Union, with French used ever less in the corridors and meeting rooms of Brussels, Michel Lefranc, delegate general of the Alliance Française, still claims greater interest in his mother tongue. "Our promotion of French is not the same as it was before. The image has completely changed in a few years. Defending French is also defending other language diversity. French has had to adapt.”
French institutions and politicians no longer insist on the use of French as the sole language of diplomacy and haute culture, but instead pursue plurilinguisme. This positions French as a good second option to English whether in education or international organizations.
The great success of English as a product for international communication is that it enjoys huge commercial success. Neither French, nor invented languages like Esperanto, can rival the domination of English in language learning markets, mass media, science and any other form of international communication. Some however, like Hyderabad professor and poet Dasgupta, have started to argue the success of English is unfair – a luxury most can only dream of.