Why English Revisited

In September 2013 I wrote a column titled Why English? The column canvassed the popularity and future of the use of English worldwide.

One reason for the popularity of English is that the USA is a world leader in higher education and in research and development. Tens of thousands of foreign students attend Canadian and US universities. Some foreign students intending to apply to a North American university attend high schools in North America. These students obtain a high school graduation certificate and at the same time they learn English.

For example, I live in Fredericton, New Brunswick where we have two high schools, Fredericton High (FHS) and Leo Hayes, and each school has a student population of nearly 2,000. I am advised by a teacher at FHS that 20% of the FHS students, about 400, are Asian. Many of the Asian students are Chinese and many are billeted with Fredericton families because their parents are resident in China.

The same FHS teacher advises me that many of the Asian students cannot speak English when they arrive. This has resulted in the local School Board funding a course titled Second Language English. The Asian students attend the English course for one hour per day until the student has basic English language skills.

The funding for the English language course is derived from the fees paid to the school board by the non-resident parents of the Asian students.

The same FHS teacher advises me that the New Brunswick Department of Education curriculum for high schools has been adopted by some Chinese authorities.

The objective of Asian students is to graduate from a Canadian high school and then apply to a North American university. But there is also a desire to learn English especially amongst the Chinese. Martin Jacques in his book When China Rules the World (2012) at page 135 states:

“The Chinese have become hugely enthusiastic learners of English during the last decade or so and many young educated Chinese speak the language with impressive fluency. ….. But this Chinese enthusiasm for English in no way reflects a decline in the popularity of Chinese.”

Mandarin Chinese is spoken by over 800 million persons. The Japanese do not share the Chinese enthusiasm for English – see the Martin Jacques book at page 135.

Other Canadian high schools have a high percentage of foreign students. The Globe and Mail of August 13, 2014 reports that “in 2012 alone, more than 23,000 new foreign students attended high school in Canada …..”

The reform and economic opening of China starting in 1979 has resulted in an affluence that surprisingly has affected the culture, attendance and finances of a high school in Fredericton, New Brunswick.

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