This page has been archived and is no longer updated. Find out more about page archiving.
  CommunicateMeet learnersMeet the team  
10 year anniversary special
The future

What is the future of English? How will language learning change? Will students learn in the same way in the future? What will be the biggest change?

To fiind out some answers to these questions, we asked David Graddol, author of 'The Future of English?', to give us his views. Read his article below and then join in the discussion at the bottom of this page.

Introducing David Graddol
David Graddol
David Graddol
David Graddol is a British applied linguist, writer, broadcaster, researcher and consultant on global English.

David wrote a follow-up analysis of global trends in English language learning - 'English Next' - which was published by the British Council in February 2006.

The Article - Learners of the future

A fast train in Tokyo
A fast tain in Tokyo - picture by Carlos
The world is changing so fast that English, perhaps the most worldly of languages, is struggling to keep up. One thing is for sure: the English learner of the future will be different from those of the past, will be looking for a different kind of English and will expect to learn it in ways which reflect the technology and lifestyles of the 21st century.

Learners in the future are likely to be much younger. Across the world, English is being made a central component of more general educational reform. English is losing its position in the foreign languages curriculum, where it was taught mainly to teenagers and has been reinvented as one of the basic skills which you need to learn when you first go to school. Textbooks and audio visual materials, methods of teaching and expected outcomes are already being transformed.

Some children
Children in Egypt - picture by Shaden
Young Learners
Young children are often said to be better at language learning than older learners but they also have special challenges. Young children don't usually have the kind of instrumental motivation and determination for learning English that older learners often have (though their parents and relations may). English lessons must therefore be fun and rewarding. Young learners also have less experience at learning and so fewer cognitive strategies for remembering things, or coping with the discouraging setbacks that are typical of any learning curve. Highly visual websites with interactive games which rely less on written text will provide accessible support for such learners.

As General English becomes something done when you're young, teenagers and young adults will be seeking more specific needs and knowledge areas. In fact, one of the consequences of the universalisation of English is the convergence between knowledge, skills and English. So learning about anything in future - whether computers or football - may come with an element of specialised English learning.

The countries where English is most sought after are also changing. As developing economies and growing populations create more demand for English, the global classroom is getting ever fuller. Learners from Brazil, Poland and China are joining classmates from Japan and Korea. But the internet is also supporting many minority learners.

People in Brazil
People in Brazil - picture by Denis
Why Learn English?
The reasons why people learn English are also changing. Globalisation is bringing together more people than ever who speak different languages and who are turning to English as the means of communication. The English learner of the future may be less worried about sounding exactly like a native speaker and more concerned about how to use English effectively in cross-cultural communication. We may be hearing more non-native speakers in dialogues and a wider range of the 'New Englishes' now used around the world.

Technology will allow English to come to you, rather than you having to go to a special place to learn English. Podcasts and downloadable computer programs hint at the range of things to come as the distinction between televisions, computers, mobile phones and mp3 players gets more blurred. And it is not just the technologies which are converging ? it also increasingly difficult to tell the difference between providers of educational content, service providers and hardware manufacturers. That may be one reason why support for learning English is coming from an increasing number of sources.

Learning English has always involved both pain and pleasure, private slog and social activity. Traditional learning provided take-it or leave-it mixes of these as well as of content but in future learners will expect be able to choose a formula which suits their cultural and psychological dispositions, or their particular needs at that moment. They, rather than their teachers, will decide how, what and when they will learn. Websites will provide the kind of support needed by learners to chart a pathway through the material and monitor progress.

A group of people
People in India - picture by Sammay
Above all, learning English is about communication and an important part of learning English is being able to exchange views and make friends with people all over the world. As learners become younger, this has a dark side as well. Issues of security and transparency of identity will become greater. Despite the growing independence of learners, trusted institutions and brand names will remain important.

Lastly, in envisioning the learners of the future as younger and more demanding, it is also worth considering the teachers of the future. The paradox is, as English becomes spoken by more and more people in the world, the number of English teachers will fall.

Discussion Questions
1. What age do you think children should start learning English?

2. Will more technology help you to learn languages more effectively?

3. Will everyone in the world speak English soon?

Thank you for sending in your comments, this topic has now closed.

Alex, Denmark
1. Personally i think that children should learn english at a low age (6-9) because of the importance of the language present in our country. Everything is turning into english and for being enjoying oneself with a movie for example, you would probably need a decent grade of english.
2. Well, i learned it from video games, and perfected it in school. So new technology should probably be able to improve the language learning considerably.
3. I think so, at a time. But probably not soon. But english is taking over.

Dody, Indonesia
1. Since the time he/she is born. Even it is good to teach the child both of English and the mother tongue language, even plus with the country official language (if it is non-English). Like the Malaysian Chinese people, they speak Mandarin (mother tounge), English (school & business) & Malaysian (official language). Although they might learn all of them slower (because at the same time), but at the end they can become a multilingual.
2. Well, it depends on the kind of technology itself. Since the so-called "being blammed of the widely spead of English" technology which is internet, yeah, it really helps a lot in learning English. But for example like me, the new things that influnce me to learn new language is the chinese movies and musics that i really enjoy. It makes me interested in learning Mandarin.
3. Yes, definetly. Well, maybe not that soon. But at least in 10 years all of the people will speak it as their second language (for non-English native speaker). Talking about this globalization era where people interact with each other, i read this theory which states that in every 9 days, 1 language dissaper from this earth. And maybe by the end of the future, there will be left with only those majority languages, which are (only) : English, Spanish, French, Arabic & Mandarin.

Alba,junx, Spain
1. We think that the best age to start learn english are between the 5 or 8 years.
2. Yes, will be there. Because always the tecnology are in constant progres, and that affect the knowledge program.
3. No. We think that maybe in far future, people will have more options or oportunities to learn or to do more actions, but in the near times we think that its complicated because actually the world have more problems to resolve before that.

Marina Sitges
I think that english is very important to communicate with people of all over the world. Now is very easy to travel so it's important to have a comun language for everybody. But is very stupid talk in english I like more to speak in catalan because is my language or spanish or french or another language. I think the technology it's a good instrument for learn language but you have to practise with other people to speak

I think that the best age it's at three years old. Bacause when you are younger it's easier to learn lenguatges. The tecnology it's it's usefull but it isn't the most important thing, people learn lenguatges comunicate with other people and living the life.I think that everyone would have to know speak english but the owner lenguatge too, and español, because this two lenguages are more speak in a world.

Agustí, Barcelona
1.I think is important lerning English since your are child.However they need a native teacher who speak always in English. Also the methode is important. I think it must be as a play and fun.
2. Could be more helpful but I am learning easily speaking with persons.
3.It would be good. The comunications would be for everybody.

Martin Svane, Denmark
1. They should/can start learning at the age of 8.
2. Yes the more technology we have the more means we have to learn.
3. No i dont think that everyone will speak english in any near future.

Tatiana Gubaydullina, Kazakhstan
1.I think children shouldn't be introduced to a foreign language too early. They first have to be in a good command of their own native language in order to identify their cultural and national uniqueness. At age of 12-13, when they are already aware of their personal identification and are able to discover new types of information on their own, it's the very time to let them know other languages and cultures.
2 Yes. And the more educated a learner, the more efficiant is the use of modern technology.
3I suppose yes. And that's the best consequense of globalization. It's benefitial for the whole humanity to communicate in one language, but we should keep our unique cultures and languages, as well as traditions and customs,too.

Victor, Spain
1. I think children should learn a second language as soon as they can speak. They should learn it in the same way they learn their native language. I mean, first speaking and then writing - This is the natural way. When you are an adult you learn first the word because you read it and memorize it so your are able to write it.But when you speak you need to look up the word in your mind and try to reproduce its sound. This is not the natural way. The goverment should push a little bit schools to teach basic subjects in two different languages. At the beginning it could be a challenge for the students but it worth in the futere.
3. It is difficult to bet for one language as the world communication one. I will bet for english or spanish.

Bilge, Turkey
1.I wish I had started to learn English when I was 1! It is easy to learn at that age because if you learnt your mother tongue first then the other languages would be really foreign for you! The much younger you learn, the much easier it gets!
2.If you have any clue about a language then more technology can make you learn more effectively. For example,I don' t have any clue about French! I had a dvd for beginner learners for French. I tried to learn something about French from that dvd but it didn' t make any sense for me! To sum up, you can just improve your current knowledge about the language you try to learn!
3. We can' t say "everyone" but we can say the majority of people in the world will speak English soon!

Tanguy, France
1. children should start learning english as soon as they can. Parents should try to educate their children with at least 2 languages that is not so difficult for children.
2. technology is a efficient way to learn english, especially for the one who study in their own country.Computers can provide them good prononciation and listening exercices rather than non native english teachers who most of the time are useless.
3. The number of english speakers is increasing but that s not mean that everyone is going to speak it soon.Others languages like spanish or chinese are also useful noticably in international business.

Dorela, Albania
I think that Engish is very importent nowadays, and I think children have to learn Engilsh in Primary School,as soon as they can.
Nowadays,everyone speaks Engish, communicates in Engish,Engish is becoming very important in everyone's life. Also technology is important cos you will learn better and in an easy way, in the way you like and I think it's the best way to learn English by a computer game or on a website. I think that for in 8 to 10 years everyone in the world will speak English as they speak their mother tongue.

3. Now everyone is trying to learn English and this language is definitely the most popular but I think that speaking English for everyone in the world is not possible because the world is too big.There are so many languages, so many places where English will never arrive...

Marcin, Poland
It depends on the parents and system as well.In Poland were imposible lern Englisch 20 years aga but now evryone try catch this language.About age I don not have any strong opinion maybe from primary school?Yes tehnology will be help us study Englisch for example thic page.I believe that speaking english language today is important because it will open another door in my life.But I don not think English will be first Language in the world.We still have nativ language which is mor important for us that another language.Whot about Spanish Chainis?

Fun kui, China
1- As soon as possible, because is not only a language, but also is a way of survival around the world.
2-yes, it is obvius, technology helps you, and provides many information easier than before, and you have several opportunities for exchanging kowlegde.
3- I don't think so. It will always be people who don't know English despite development in communication.

Paco, Spain
1. I think a language is a way for us to communicate. I mean, it isn't so important to get a very good accent, the very best important thing is the communication. If children learn English drawing, painting, etc, they are probably wasting their time. But if they play football in English, shout in English, sing in English,then this language would be a way for them to communicate. 2. Of course. Technology provides the posibility of focusing and you can progess more easily. 3. Globalisation will pull down barriers like languages. Not the real English (with very difficult sound, like some vowel), but an international standard English will be the way of communication very soon.

Haitham, Egypt
I believe that a child should not speak English unless he/she master his own language, then at later stage, schools could provide English as second language.I mean we should not make pressures on the Children in order tho know second language. Because that child when grow up he might need English and might not. If he/she needs English in the future he would be eager to learn it. Also, I believe that technologies help more in understanding English very quickly, cause one might need to read instructions books or operating manual for this machine. I do not believe that everyone in the near future or soon would speak English, there too much barriers or obstacles that hinder everyone in the world to speak English such as Poverty and illiteracy

Taarai, Kiribati
1.In Kiribati, children start learning English at the Primary School at Class one. 2. Yes 3. No, because we have different languages but English is most important to connect with your friends and families in other countries.

YanTing, Taiwan
I think that children should start learning at 6 years old, but the policy of education still have to focus on native language. English is an important tool to communicate the world so that is necessary for everyone. Technology, especially computer, help me so much. I can surf any kind of website and listen to English courses on line. It's more convenient than before. There are many websites of learning English that have interesting contents. Most of people have willing to learn English, I think it is a trend.

Shirani, Switzerland
Nomaly the children start learning at the age of five if English is their native language ,it's not a problem but if it's their second language that's bit difficult,but one thing if the parents are good in English they could suport the children to keep up ,with the native and the english as well,otherwise it's bit hard i suppose....Ofcourse the tecnology helps a lot there are various things to get help....if you want to lean modern English......Yes in future English will be most popular even now we can see how fast its improving among the nations ,earliar when i came to switzerland it was actually 25 years ago ,very difficult to find someone who speak Englishbut now it's enormous,thats purely indicate,the neccessity and the improvment of thelanguage.......

Sheida, Iran
I think the childrens should start learning English from early years as a second choice of Language.

Yoon soo, South Korea
My thinking for number 3 is that in future everyone will ba able to speak English for their second language. I think, the global language can be changed. it can be chinese, because the population of china is enormous, and it can be Spanish, because there are many countries are using Spanish. But we don't know what will be happening in future, however English is the most important language to live in 20th century. Most people have their own jobs, and if you learn English it would be helpful.

Sajid, Pakistan
in my opinion children should be motivated to learn english the day they learn their first mother tongue as a second mother tongue because now a day most of the knowledge is available in the english. in the older ages these children must learn the actual subject like differnt types of sciences instead of learning english vocabulary. About the second point i will say technology is already helping a lot and it will further help in the future. i think it is not possible as people across the world are very poor they cant afford to spent their time on learning english. they dont have enough time to search for food, learning english is not priority for them.

Somsak wannaklnag, Thailand
1. We commomly assume that if someone pronounces a second language like a native speaker, they probably started learning it as a child, conversely if some does not start learing it until adulthood, they never have a native like accent,even any other aspect of their language such as syntax and vocabulary are indistinquishable to those of natives.I met a German working in the German embassy in China and he told me that he could write English maby better that American people but wneh he spoke English people knew that he is not a native speaker. I think when we learn English the sensible goal is to be intelligible. 2. Yes, take me for example, internet help me to learn it from BBC, CNN and Australia etc. 3.I hope so. If we have the wolrd language that can help everyone understand one another ,maybe we can live more peacefully.

Christina, Australia
I myself speak 3 languages. albanian that's my mothertounge, greek because my origin is greek, and english because i live in Australia. I believe that speaking english language today is important because it will open another door in your life. I believe that when children are young they need to learn the language that they mother speaks. that means the language of the country they live in, and later on they will be introduced to other languages. it is important for everyone it doesn't matter which country they come from, to keep our language and learn about our traditions and customs of our country because , it doensn't matter where you live, your language that your mother tought you since you were a little baby is the language of your soul. this is what you are, where you come from. we can't forget our roots. the first teacher is our mother and the first words we learn is in our language. will everyone in the world speak Engish soon? this it will depend on their ability, their will, and their circumstances. I myself started to learn english in Albania from a dictionary by myself, until I had found a teacher to teach me the basic english,and when we migrated to Greece with my family, I started to buy books with answers so I could correct my notes, and since then I have learnt by myself. so I am a self-taught in english. But the technology will help a lot people because it's less expensive, very quick and more attractive rather than the books. so, all depend on how much everyone is keen to learn and use the language.

Eric, China
1) In my opinion, different children, different ages. But the sooner, the better. In addition, it depends on the English environment you create for them. In China, English is so popuplar that most children begin to learn English at their early ages, about when they can speak. However, as they grow up day by day, they lose their interests in English, for it becomes more and more difficult. In the end, theu even give it up. therefore, we are poor at listening and speaking. 2) Yes, I think so. Because we lack an english environment here. we can learn it by listening to MP3 or BBC news on the internet, which can improve your Englsih rapidly with the help of high technology. 3) No, it's impossible for everybody to speak English soon, there are so many poor people in the developing countries who can not go to school. Maybe in future, it will.

Slim, Canada
Basically I do believe that there is not a specific age to learn a new language like English or Spanich for example.However, I should admit that young pupils have the ability to learn fast and memorize words and sentences pretty well. For sure that technology brings a different and new ways to learn English.Personally I rarely use dictionnary and grammar books, I prefer use Online dictionnary and encyclopedia.I wish that all peopole around the world could learn English but sometimes it's really hard for peopole in poor country to get a strong and good education or simply to buy books or computers. At the end I really appreciate this website, it allows me to improve my English in a funny way.Thank you (BBC learn English team) you've done such a nice job.

Ali, Saudi Arabia
English is the language of the 21st century. To be able to use technology better, communicate with other nations more effectively, and learn about almost anything you need quickly then english is tool to use. I myself have lived in the UK for several years. Being competent in english has changed my life dramatically. I have a 1 year old daughter and my plans for her is to be very competent in english as well. As a matter of fact, I see english learning for her as important as learning my mother tonuge, Arabic.

Marcela, Uruguay
1-I think the children should start learning English at kinder. 2-Technology it's the key, it's the point to me, after the will of the students. 3-It seems to me, but still are a lot of work to do.

Miguel, Mexico
My opinion for number 1 is when somebody see the light of the sun for the first time. For the next, tech really make easy and give me the chance of increase my english level effectively . I´m very busy almost always, so this way for learn is good for me. No. 3. I think so. Some years ago I was in Japan and I can feel the sensation that the English language is the media trough every people of diferent countries could say Hi¡ and show us with words their thoughts not only smiling.

Erika, Lithuania
1)I think children should start learning English being very young, 5 years or so. In my view, the earlier you start the better. Certainly, it is very important how a child is being tought. If you make your child have long and exhausting lessons learning vocabulary and grammar, the child will soon get bored. You have to find an attractive, interesting and exciting way of teaching a child, like playing games, listening to songs or watchig cartoons in English... 2)I do believe that technology will help us to learn languages more effectively. There is a great variety of materials for learners on the internet, you can listen to native speakers, communicate with learners from all over the world and find many more helpful things to improve your language skills. I think technology makes it easier and much more fun to study a language. It becomes your hobby, esspecially, if you're learning with the BBC Learning English :) 3)I don't know whether everyone will speak English soon, but I'm sure that it is the most popular language nowadays. In Lithuania almost all students have English at school. English is the language of the internet, business, and communications. It's the language of the future. I think it will become even more important, since people realise that knowing the English language opens the door to the world and so many opportunities waiting for you...

Julio, Colombia
Congratulation for your 10 years. T think in at early ages is good for to start to learn English. However, any ages is good to begin anything. In my experience, I started to learn English at 37 years old and I am happy to do. 2. Of course, The technology play an important rolle, but it is one of thing that developing countries like Colombia do not have. 3. Yes, we can speak English whenever we want, only depend that our own interest. Thank you

Joshua, India
Sooner or later communicating in english becomes part and parcel of ones life in most parts of the world. I strongly believe in making english as 'secondary mother tongue' of future generation!!

I think you must learn better when you are young,of course the technology power the way in wich you learn.It is easy to learn,so you may start communicating in a few month with other people.

K.D. Singh
1. Children should be motivated to english language as soon as they can get it. Age differes pereson to person... but in generally its good to start from 5-6 years of age... 2. yes, off-course technology help us to learn languages more effectively... so i m here today to communicate.... 3. Yes.... english has broad world to communicate & so to do many of works effeciently with english.... its giving a feeling of need to express nicely in a broad perespective.... & thnx to BBC LE team to give opportunity to learn... widening my sphere....

^^ Back to top CommunicateMeet learnersMeet the team