The British Council's Sarah Rolph breaks down the results of our new report, The future demand for English in Europe: 2025 and beyond.
Is the demand for English language learning set to rise or fall in the study’s seven countries?
The potential market of adult English language learners in the countries that we surveyed – France, Greece, Italy, Spain, Poland, Portugal and Romania – is going to decrease.
In 2015, 172.5 million adults were potential English language learners. By 2025, that number will have shrunk to 157.2 million, a decrease of 15.3 million. The biggest fall will be in Romania (16 per cent) and the smallest will be in Italy (5.8 per cent).
The drop in potential demand is due the decrease in population numbers, related to birth rates in the seven countries. It is also due to the increase in adult populations who have good levels of English and so don’t need to learn English.
But demand from school-age children will probably remain strong, as parents encourage children to become more proficient in English to help them secure a good career. And although there will be fewer adults, employers are looking for people with greater levels of English language ability. So, adults too will need to work harder to develop their skills in English to meet higher standards.
How have government or school initiatives affected teaching and learning of English in Europe?
Governments across Europe are increasing the amount and quality of language learning in primary and secondary education. The Italian government has focused on what is known as Content and Language Integrated Learning. This means, for example, that Italian students may study history or science in English language. Many regions in Spain have developed bilingual programmes where children are taught part of the time in Spanish and part in English. Other countries are developing teachers' English language skills to improve learners' levels of English.
How do employers feel about potential and current employees' levels of English language?
Employers are looking for people who can use English effectively. Students may have a good grasp of English grammar, but can they work effectively in a multi-national team where everyone speaks English as a second language? Employees need to negotiate in English, solve a logistical problem in English, and present a new strategy persuasively to an executive board in English.
How will consumer expectations of English language education and technology change over the next seven years?
Most of the major providers of English language examinations are developing or have developed software to assess and grade writing, identify errors and give personalised feedback to the writer. Soon, this will be possible with spoken English.
So it may be possible to get an automated, personalised health check of your English with a detailed breakdown of the areas for improvement. How long will it then take to get a computer-generated learning plan with all the necessary activities and tasks to take you to your learning goal?
Having lots of digital tools won't necessarily help people to learn a language. Academic branches of the English language teaching community, and technology companies, need to understand how effective new digital tools are, and what the best combination is for people with different learning needs. As one interviewee said, ‘It’s one thing to have a lot of resources at your disposal, and another thing entirely to actually learn and retain’.
The technology sector is also grappling with the issue of developing content for advanced learners. While it’s relatively easy to develop programmes to teach or practise basic vocabulary, it’s more difficult to develop ways of helping people learn the subtle, sophisticated or nuanced language that workers of the future will need.
Did you find anything surprising as a result of this research?
Adults want to perfect their English to take advantage of work opportunities, and English enables them to look for work in other countries.
But you might not guess that this may also affect senior citizens. We are starting to see demand for English lessons from elders who perhaps missed out on English in their youth or working life, and may now have grandchild-care duties while their adult children work in another country. Grandparents also travel to look after children during school holidays while their parents are at work.