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English to be the world's 'language of choice': British PM

by Staff Writers
London (AFP) Jan 17, 2008
British premier Gordon Brown Thursday pledged to make English the world's "language of choice", announcing a huge programme to boost teaching and access to resources, particularly in China and India.

Brown, who heads to China later Thursday on his maiden visit as leader, said the British Council cultural organisation will offer English students and teachers greater access to materials, resources and qualifications via the web.

Teachers and learners will be able to communicate with their counterparts around the world, while students will get one-to-one tuition via voice over Internet protocol (VOIP).

Writing on the Downing Street website, he said the aim was to encourage one million "hits" per month, with a particular focus on China, where the government there has said children should be taught English from the age of six.

Currently, about two billion people are learning or teaching English worldwide, while some 350 million speak English in India and 300 million in China, the prime minister said.

But he added: "I believe that, with the right help, we will have a situation by 2025 where the number of English speakers in China exceeds the number of speakers of English as a first language in all of the rest of the world."

Brown also said the existing framework of qualifications for English teachers abroad will be expanded, short-distance learning courses developed and co-operation enhanced with broadcasting organisations like the BBC.

In India, which he visits Sunday and Monday, Brown said he will announce a British Council-run programme to recruit "master trainers" to train 750,000 English teachers in India over the next five years.

Private sector companies in the telecoms, Internet and broadcast sectors will also be encouraged to enhance access to English learning, teaching and practice materials, he added.

Brown said that English had developed into more than a language, becoming a "bridge across borders and cultures, a source of unity in a rapidly changing world".

"English is our heritage but it is also becoming the common future of human commerce and communication," he said.

"This is a great opportunity for Britain -- and a measure of the greatness that lies not in empire or territory but through a language that has the power to bring this world of over 200 countries and billions of people closer together, with the versatility to evolve and adapt.

"We will take up with vigour the bold task of making our language the world's common language of choice, the language that helps the world talk, laugh and communicate together."

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