English as a Global Language

Why English? Why should teachers care about it?

Research Paper (undergraduate), 2020

13 Pages, Grade: 1,7


Table of Content

1. Introduction

2. Defining English as a Global Language - What is ‘Polycentrism'?
2.1 What is a ‘Global Language'?
2.2 History of English becoming a Global Language
2.3 Categorising the Use of English in the 21st Century

3. Teaching English as a Global Language
3.1 The Concept of ‘Global Education'
3.2 Global Issues in modern School Curricula

4. Reflecting on my future Role as a Teacher


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1. Introduction

This paper deals with the question what a ‘Global Language' is and why English rose to be one and the most dominant of them. After a defining what the term ‘Polycentrism' refers to and after explaining the core aspects of a what makes a global language we will take a look at the historical events and developments that caused English to gain the status of the ‘first lingua franca'.

Following this, we will deal with the topic why teachers and educators should care about the special status of the English language and why global issues connected to that should be integrated into teaching classes. For doing so a look will be taken on the recently scientifically discussed concept of ‘Global Education' and how it can be implemented into learning and teaching processes.

An analysis of how far the concepts of Global Education and global issues themselves are incorporated into school curricula will subsequently follow.

At the end of this paper I will reflect on the previously discussed topics and describe how I personally stand towards global issues in English classrooms and how I plan to deal with them.

2. Defining English as a Global Language - What is ‘Polycentrism'?

Before starting to analyse to what degree global issues are integrated into the English classrooms around the anglophone world it must be defined why English teachers should care about global matters and why these have anything to do with teaching students the English language.

In general, something that is polycentric is defined as of ‘having several or many centres' (Oxford Dictionary: 2020). Referring to the topic of this paper and to the broad knowledge of which languages are spoken around the globe, stating that English as a language has many different centres is easy to conclude. There are multiple nations on this planet that have English as their first language and even more that established it as an additional national language. Often English is even referred to as ‘the first lingua franca' (Crystal 2003: 1). But what does that mean? How did English develop itself to be of such importance? And how does this development influence the way we teach our children? The following paragraphs will shed light to those questions and will establish a theoretical framework for this paper.

2.1 What is a ‘Global Language'?

The term ‘global language' or ‘world language' as it is also known as, seems to be quite self-explanatory at first. But analysing what this term specifically describes may turn out to be more difficult and could lead to more questions than initially expected. In the case of the English language David Crystal (2003: 2) raises the questions if ‘global language' is describing that everyone in the world speaks English or every country recognizes it as an official language? That is certainly not the case, so the term itself is not stating the obvious, but instead regards a more complex concept.

Generally, to be considered ‘global', a language must achieve the status of a special role that is recognized by every country on the globe. Most obviously these requirements are met by countries that have the language as their mother tongue. For English that would be USA, Canada, Great Britain, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and multiple Caribbean countries (Crystal 2003: 3-4). The mother tongue use on its own is obviously not applying to every country since not more than a handful of nations have the same respective language as their first one.

The special status of a language that is foreign to other countries has to be achieved by being taken up by them and being put to a special place within their communities (Crystal 2003: 4). David Crystal (ibid., 5) describes two specific possibilities of how this process may manifest itself. The first one is to declare a language to be the official ‘second language' of a country. Its use is to serve as a medium of communication in public institutions like the government, law courts, the media, and the educational system. To be firmly established into their respective communities the second language must be acquired in life as early as possible (ibid.). Seen as an equivalent to the first language, English as second language in this case is widely spread amongst numerous countries across the world, namely Ghana, Nigeria, India, and Singapore just to name a few. This status is far more pronounced than the one of other languages (ibid.). The second way is to prioritise a language in a country's foreign-language teaching, despite the fact it is not an official language. By doing this it will be the most common language to be taught to children in school and on the same time will be the most accessible one to adults who never learned it. For the English language this is the case in over 100 countries worldwide (ibid.).

Additional to these two main processes of setting up a language to be of special status, a language also may be favoured through reasons of ‘historical traditions, political expediency, and the desire for commercial, cultural or technological contact' (Crystal 2003: 5).

Considering all of the previously described processes the English language reached to be so widely spoken that it is called to be ‘the language on which the sun never sets'. It is the modern language of a global economy, substantial parts of public discourse and all around the globe it provides an access to education and wealth (Schreier, Hundt & Schneider 2020: 1). Also, it is known as the first ‘lingua franca'1 and over the past few decades is replacing German as the international language of science (Eibel 2005: 1). And that is how to define a ‘global language' and why English is one.

2.2 History of English becoming a Global Language

After determining what a global language is and how it is able to achieve this status, we will take a look on how English developed over time and why exactly this specific language became ‘the first lingua franca'.

The origins of English as an ever-expanding language lay in the colonial period. During the 17th century settlers from Britain founded colonies on the east coast of America and together with their way of living and hopes for a brighter future they brought the English language with them (Graddol 1997: 6). As the colonial powers expanded more and more, by the beginning of the 19th century the British Empire rose to be the dominant global power. Graddol (1997: 6) describes that its colonies and vast land holdings across the world combined with a distinctive mix of trade and cultural politics, consolidated the world position of English and set the pre-condition for it to be used globally. Communities of English speaking settlers were built up around the globe and with them patterns of trade and communication. On top of that, the industrial revolution, which started in Great Britain during the late 19th century and revolutionised the structures of workforce and labour, established English as the international language of advertising and consumerism (ibid., 7).

Since the beginning of the 20th century the British Empire declined as a result of the outcome of two World Wars, but the influence of the English language continued to grow. The USA rose as a superpower and alongside its economic, technological, and cultural influence, it also spread the English language (Graddol 1997: 8). Especially after World War 2 the American influence around the world increased by English and American English being an embodiment of American power. It was and still is until this day seen as a symbol of technology, hope, material advancement, international exchange, and scientific progress (ibid.).

To summarise why exactly English became a global language throughout the past couple of centuries, a combination of historical, socio-cultural, geo-political, economic, and technological developments resulted in the spread of the English language. People all over the world became depended on using English for their social and economic success and that was a result of historical developments, namely the rise of the British Empire and the USA (Crystal 2003: 28-29).

2.3 Categorising the Use of English in the 21st Century

After the historical developments discussed in the previous chapter, English as global language in current times can be broadly divided into three categories of English­speaking people (Jenkins 2014: 14-15):

I. English as a native language (ENL) ... is spoken by those raised in a country where it is historically used as the first language.
II. English as a second language (ESL). is usually spoken as an additional national language in countries that were colonised by Great Britain.
III. English as a foreign language (EFL). is spoken in countries where English is not an official language. It serves as an international medium of communication.

This three-way categorisation is not considered to be very strict and sometimes it may be difficult to clearly distinct a certain variety of English, but it turns out to be a practical model to present the main origins of the use of English and a good starting point for doing research (ibid.).

The use of the more direct categorisation of the ENL/ESL/EFL concepts in early and current theoretical approaches are accompanied by Braj Kachru's model of the ‘Three Circles of World Englishes'. This concept is being widely accepted and adopted by numerous curricula and scholars around the world (Buschfeld & Kautzsch 2020: 54). Summarised, it describes three overlapping ovals that classify the English-speakers and their respective countries around the globe into the Inner Circle, Outer Circle and Expanding circle (ibid.).

The Inner Circle refer to countries where English is the official and primary language and the native language for the majority the population. These countries are ‘the traditional bases of English' (Buschfeld & Kautzsch 2020: 54).

The Outer Circle describes countries where English is a non-native language, but due to the expansion of the British Empire it was adopted as an official language. Over decades and centuries, it went through a process of nativization and institutionalisation (Buschfeld & Kautzsch 2020: 54).

The Expanding Circle captures those countries where English was not enforced by British or American expansion. It only serves as a lingua franca and medium of international communication in a globalised world, especially in departments of business and finance (Buschfeld & Kautzsch 2020: 55).

Combine all these different classifications of English and summed up there are over3 Billion people on this planet that speak English (Jenkins 2014: 16). That number alone is reason enough to call English a ‘global language' and not only do a lot of people in this world speak English, through centuries of language development numerous varieties of English sprung up all around the globe and diversify the way English is spoken today.

Teaching English as a Global Language Now that we know what a global language is, how this status of the English language developed over time and how its use can be categorized we need to discuss why teachers of English in both contexts of first and second language teaching should integrate this global status and its issues into the classroom. So that basically means: Why should I care as a teacher?

After summarising the concept of ‘Global Education' that is trying to answer this question a quick look on how certain English curricula already implement this idea will be taken.

3.1 The concept of Global Education

One of the scientifical approaches to this topic deals with the idea of ‘Global Education'. This concept refers to a specific method of teaching that integrates global issues into the classroom. These issues are a result of a world that is globalizing more and more and breaks international barriers by using the English language for example. And with these processes come its own problems (Pratama & Yuliati 2016: 719). In our globalized world these concern ‘terrorism, ethnic clash, social discrepancy and environmental distraction' - and to teach our children and students how to deal with certain matters should be a responsibility of each teacher around the globe (ibid.).

This idea of Global Education furthermore describes that English teaching should not be merely the transfer of knowledge and acquisition of language skills, but alongside that, English should be a tool with that students are able to response some critical global issues (Pratama & Yuliati 2016: 719). This process of learning a language is then supported by students developing knowledge, views, attitudes, and skills that grant a way of live with high responsibilities for a multicultural and interdependent world (ibid.). So instead of just continuously starring into textbooks we as teachers should also pay attention to global issues and ask ourselves how to integrate them into our classes. Of course, teachers will not be able to solve those problems, but paying attention to them and sensitising students to be more sympathetic and understanding to certain situations, we can stop the spread of problems (ibid.: 719-720).


1 ‘Lingua franca‘ describes a ‘language that is used by speakers of different languages as a common medium of communication' (Oxford Dictionary: 2020).

Excerpt out of 13 pages


English as a Global Language
Why English? Why should teachers care about it?
University of Duisburg-Essen  (Institut für Anglophone Studien)
Global Issues in the EFL Classroom
Catalog Number
ISBN (Book)
english, global, language, polycentrism, lingua franca, lingua, franca, global language, teachers, school, subject, global issues, issues, teaching, classes, classroom, EFL, education, global education, teaching processes
Quote paper
Dominik Kruczinski (Author), 2020, English as a Global Language, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/1224588


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