Whats Wrong With A Universal Second Language?

Even though English is not “the mother tongue” to all, it is definitely becoming “the other tongue.” Currently we continue to see the global spread of the English language and with this and with this reach comes the development of a variety of English dialects. The English language is converging as the world’s second language. Some see the increase of the use of the English language as an improvement and as helpful in business and communication skills; yet, some remain for skeptical and remain to see the rise of English as a threat on their own language.

As stated in the article The Impact of English as a Global Language on Educational Policies and Practices in the Asia-Pacific Region, scholar David Nuan of the University of Hong Kong, notes that the emergence of English as a global language is having significant impacts on policies and practices in countries all around the world and is also causing inequality across the world in regard to effect language instruction.[1]

David Grewal also questions this notion in Network Power: The Social Dynamics of Globalization. Grewal states that many linguists would believe it would be beneficial to have English as a global second language for it would “halt the erosion at the level of the mother tongue that is occurring with language death.” With the ongoing rise of globalization, languages are becoming an import network mechanism, which are being spread all over the world. Hence, I believe that it would be very beneficial to have a global second language, but the question remains if this can occur and benefit everyone equally.

Like Grewal I am critical of this implementation of English as a second language. I believe a communal global language would both help lessen, as well as widen the gap between individuals around the world. Grewal brings into question who is going to pay for the implantation of certain standards, like the English language around the world. He goes on to note that even if we want a global standard with English, “the distribution of the costs and benefits to do that standard may be highly unjust and may actually be inhibiting its emergence.”

Implementing English as a second language at this day and age would not be evenly implemented around the world and would create wider gaps between the rich and poor in the world. Coordinating standards like languages or measurement systems of technical protocols are more valuable when people use them as noted by Grewal.

English has been seen, as illustrated by Grewal, to be tied to US power through history and I believe it will continue to have power.  However, this is not to say that English will not become the official universal second language, it just might be one more thing that separates the global north form the global south.


[1] Kong, David. “The Impact of English as a Global Language on Educational Policies and Practices in the Asia-Pacific Region.” TESOL Quarterly 37, no. 4: 589-613.

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