The world’s language (Gordon Brown’s speech delivered 17 Jan 08)
The English language, like football and other sports, began here and has spread to every corner of the globe. Today more than a billion people speak English, a third of humanity. It is becoming the world’s language: the language of the internet, of business, of international flight – the pathway of global communication and global access to knowledge. And it has become the vehicle for hundreds of millions of people of all countries to connect with each other, in countless ways. Indeed, English is much more than a language: it is a bridge across borders and cultures, a source of unity in a rapidly changing world.
English does not make us all the same – nor should it, for we honour who we distinctly are. But it makes it possible for us to speak to each other, to better understand each other. And so it is a powerful force not just for economics, business and trade, but for mutual respect and progress. I don’t know how many times I’ve been told by people in every continent I have visited of the power of the English language to break down barriers to understanding.
For Britain, this is not a matter of narrow national pride. It is in part an accident of history – a wave of knowledge and commerce, which gathered even greater global force in the post-war era, that gave the world the English language.
And government after government around the world is recognising the role of English – ensuring it is taught at primary level as a core skill. In total, 2 billion people worldwide will be learning or teaching English by 2020. Today 350 million people speak English in India and another 300 million in China, with more children learning English in Chinese schools than in British schools. And in continents and countries where there are varied languages and dialects, often the people speak with each other in English – their shared language.
there are millions of people in every continent who are still denied this chance to learn English – prevented from enjoying many of the benefits of the internet, commerce and culture. And I believe that no one – however poor, however distant – should be denied the opportunity that the English language provides. So I want Britain to make a new gift to the world – pledging to help and support anyone, whatever their circumstances, to have access to the tools they need to learn or to teach English. And my plan is that in the next 10 years at least 1 billion more people in the villages, towns and cities of every continent will have access to resources, materials and qualifications from the UK.
This week, during my visit to China and India, we will start to make our new commitment a reality. I want this to be a world wide endeavour of private and public sectors working together – with broadcasters, telecom companies, publishers, universities, colleges and schools playing their part in opening up English language opportunities to millions.
First, we will announce that the British Council, working with partners from both public and private sectors, will set up a new website offering learners and teachers of English around the world ready access to the materials, resources and qualifications they need to develop their skills in English. Having – with the BBC and the Open University – pioneered the use of the internet to reach many more people on-line, the British Council is perfectly placed to lead this path breaking project.