The Italian philosopher Antonio Gramsci stated that language is always closely related to culture and ideology. For that reason, the primary reason for which many are opposed to the linguistic hegemony of English is not because they are fundamentally opposed to the language itself, but because they see it as a means by which the English-speaking world is engaging in neo-colonialism. Where the English language goes, cultural perceptions and ideologies from English-speaking countries follow, reshaping the cultural landscapes of various countries in ways that some see as an affront and a marginalization of their own cultures. One of the main areas in which this is an issue is in the world of education and academia.
In many disciplines, the best and brightest students throughout the world feel that it is necessary to learn English if they want to excel professionally. For this reason, many top-level schools hold all of their classes in English regardless of where they are located. For example, the China Europe International Business School one of the top business schools in China holds its classes exclusively in English. If ambitious students do not learn in English speaking schools, a growing number of the best online colleges are offering supplemental English courses.
According to Professor Yukio Tsuda, an unavoidable effect of the expectation that all learned people must be able to speak English well is the assumption that anyone who does not speak English well is uneducated and unintelligent. This can result in an unfair marginalization of various professionals, experts, educators, and researchers who have stellar credentials in their particular fields but simply lack linguistic skills in English.
Those speaking other languages may have trouble getting their scholarly works published and distributed through the most esteemed venues of the world, and any achievements they make may not receive the renown or attention they would receive if their findings were simply published in English. One might argue that the obvious recourse for such people is to pay someone to translate their works into English. However, that only fixes one aspect of the problem. With English standing as the world language for both business and academia, such people are also hampered in their ability to network and establish the personal relationships of trust and respect that are often so vital to success.
In late 2011, President Hu Jin-tao of China published a controversial essay in which he highlighted what he saw as a culture war between China and the West primarily with the English-speaking world. Hu identifies the United States like the United Kingdom before it as a force that â€œexploits its strength to export cultural products throughout the world.â€ He likened these cultural products to opium. While his pronunciations were geared toward a general audience, the implications on the world of education were particularly clear.
As long as countries like the United States, Canada, Australia, United Kingdom, and India which has now all but made English its primary language continue to be regional and world economic powerhouses, English will continue to be the international language of choice for business. As long as the United States and other English-speaking countries continue to flood the world market with movies, music, books, and other media products that people all over the world enjoy, professors in humanities and social science programs will continue to feel required to address them as parts of their own cultural canon. And as long as the scientific community continues to use English as a lingua franca to communicate among multinational peers, scientists of all fields will feel obligated to become proficient in English.
Hu Jin-tao, Yukio Tsuda, and others may be incensed at the prospect of another century of English hegemony in education, but so long as the economics are there, these trends will continue.