As any teacher would tell you, it is beneficial for your progress to challenge yourself by expanding your vocabulary with high-level words – including long words that may seem intimidating at first.

Reading David Graddol’s 1997 landmark work “The Future of English?” in 2022 must be a very different experience to what it was back at the time of its publication by the British Council.  Graddol, a linguist and a polymath, used scenario-planning based on the future-proofing modelling method Shell Oil used, to outline a future where English would inexorably spread across the globe, but would possibly be met with resistance at the perceived imperialism of the trend and the subsequent loss of local language and cultures such linguistic hegemony would bring.  The situation now seems a lot less apparent, however. While English is certainly a world language, many who use it see it as a tool for economic, commercial and educational purposes, or as a means to gain access to an internet outside of their particular language communities.  Meanwhile, special interest groups, the unforeseen (back then) dominance of smartphones and the current use of powerful translation tools have somewhat lessened the impact of English as an homogenising agent.  Add to this the unprecedented tumult of recent years, such as a global pandemic forcing us to interact virtually and limiting travel, and it is no wonder Graddol missed some key ways English would impact and be used.    

Graddol actually terms the point where English is seen as an imperialistic negative force as a “nightmare scenario”, but this was in the days of post-Cold War, fin de siècle, Occidental based ideas of globalisation, where such thinkers as Fukyama pronounced “The End of History” (1992).  In hindsight, Fukuyama’s argument seems to be few decades- or possibly centuries- premature. 

Graddol’s reassessment of his predictions in 2006 “English Next” acknowledges that the predictions made 9 years before missed some key agencies of change, such as the enormous impact India and China would have on the next two decades, and the way their populations would use English on their terms. He shows that all the most widely spoken languages have native populations in decline, whereas non-native use of English and other “top” languages, such as Mandarin and Spanish, has been on the rise for quite some time.  In essence, the idea that being able to converse with native speakers is now not the general goal of most language users in our pluralinguistic world.  

Graddol’s two works are fascinating, and still prescient, examples of the way languages have evolved and will continue to do so in the years ahead.  

Join the Future of English Symposium on Day 2 of the New Directions conference at 3pm to see the current discussions on this future and commentary on Graddol’s work. 


Join us for current viewpoints and discussions around the future of English at New Directions East Asia 2022  Day 2: 15:00 (Local time, face-to-face at the Dharma Negara Alaya Art & Creative Hub in Denpasar, Indonesia)