English and Globalisation : a slave to the market?
by Marnie Holborow

(This is a summary of a paper given to the IATEFL conference in Brighton 2003)

ELT needs to reposition itself in a broader political context. More particularly it needs to take full account of three recent geopolitical developments:

  • The adoption of the neoliberal agenda and how it has affected institutions of higher education
  • The military face of globalisation and the recent war on Iraq
  • Global opposition to both of these

All three have direct bearing on how English is perceived and what and how we teach.

Two aspects of these developments are highlighted here:

1) The quest for International Students in Universities and ELT involvement in this process

2) The effect on language - World English made from above but also from below.

1. The Scramble for the International Student

First, the marketisation of education, like the ideology of the market, itself is riven with contradictions:

"World" English everywhere Access to learning/speaking it restricted
International students sought by Universities Deported by Governments
International students courted as if in a free market Forced to pay higher fees than national students
Enrolled supposedly alongside other students Follow a distinctive track

These contradictions reveal the degree to which higher education institutions are desperate to recruit overseas, non-EU students for the higher fees that these students bring - sometimes two or three times what a national or EU student pays.

This is by no means only an Irish or a UK phenomenon. It is estimated that the numbers of enrolled overseas students are 1.47 million across the OECD countries and will increase by 100,000 a year.

Overseas students in universities are rapidly filling the financial gap left by decreasing government funds. International students and their search for English have now become a significant part of the creeping privatisation of higher education.

ELT lecturers and teachers cannot remain neutral to this process. A number of issues in this respect should be should be discussed across the profession:

  • Equality of fees between home and international students
  • Provision of full overseas student support services
  • Representation of international students on student bodies
  • Integration of overseas student programmes with existing programmes
  • Development of exchange programmes with non-EU universities


2. English and Globalisation - language from above and below

English and globalisation, or Englishisation in Globalisation as one writer refers to it, raises the question of ideology in language. Language use is part of broader social activities, processes and conflicts. Recognising this highlights the value of students being engaged actively in what has been termed critical language awareness. This process involves students in exploring the ways in which language can both conceal and reveal the social and the ideological nature of all texts.

The global market, capitalist globalisation and the language of neoliberalism has penetrated deep into English. Examples of this in the educational arena are many.

  • Policy reports on education
    The paper examined examples of "neoliberal speak" in a recent Irish report (The Skilbeck Report) which calls for greater "student-driven funding" in the educational sector.
  • University publications
    In University publications, such as the student handbook and minutes of academic meetings, the language of the market appears in domains normally reserved for business. The most striking of these cluster of words is the increasingly accepted designation of student as "customer".

But global English has not only been determined by what Lakoff calls "ideological frames", handed down from governments and corporations. It is also reinvented from below.

  • Unpicking the dominant discourse
    "McWorld" dominant discourse has been widely questioned, as a result of global and very sizeable anti-globalisation and anti-war movements. The Language of War columns in the Guardian, which ran for the duration of the war, were used as examples of ongoing ideological questioning of new words such as sensitive site exploitation, uprise, regime target, liberation bounce.
  • Contesting ideology
    The spontaneous appearance, during the war, of various critiques of the military's use of language, showed that dominant ideology in language, despite its weight in the media, does not go uncontested. There were many examples of challenging of this "manufactured consent" to use Chomsky's phrase - on websites on leaflets, in student newspapers etc. One particularly striking medium of this was slogans on placards on anti-war demonstrations across the world - examples of which reveal both the sophistication of awareness about ideology in language and also the sheer internationalism of English use.
Bush Empty warhead
Los Angeles, USA

War is terrorism on a bigger budget
Belfast, Northern Ireland

No war Play rugby
Italy's rugby team banner, Rome, Italy

Excess of peace not excess of evil
Muscat, Oman first all-women demonstration

We shall overcome
Sang in Brussels, Belgium

No blood for Oil
Tokyo, Japan

Bush killer Stop Bush
Managua, Nicaragua

Bush will yeh ever cop on to yerself?
Protester's placard in Dublin Ireland

We fight bombs with pompoms
Radical Cheerleaders New York, USA

No more blood for oil

( under picture of Blair with Bush's eyes) London, England

Make tea not war
London England

English is being remade to express the vantage points of its many new speakers, who simply refuse to be the passive ventriloquists of Empire, US style. These point to be another world English in the making.


Marnie Holborow lecturers in English and Irish studies in the School of Applied Language and Intercultural Studies< in Dublin City University. Besides teaching on Exchanges programmes, she also teaches on MA programmes on Irish immigration policy and World English.
Author of the Politics of English (Sage Publications) her present research interests are English and Neoliberalism and English in the Irish context.

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