English Language Training, Is It Less Valuable in Today’s Business World?

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I ask if English language training is less valuable in today’s business world because we have seen the economic rise of China over the last decade or two and I wanted to think about the affect it would have on English Language Training.  Will it mean the rise of Chinese language training at the expense of English language training?  Is it becoming the number one economy in the world that dictates the language of business?  I am not sure if these are completely true.

Does Your Economic Position Dictate the Language Training Needs in the World?

I think that to some degree it does, but there are some things that show that it is not necessarily true.  At one time Japan was the second largest economy in the world and there was no big move around the world to learn Japanese.  The same was true when Germany was the second largest economy and there was no big push for people to learn German.  Some people will learn these languages to make them more marketable in the business world.  At the time these two countries were in second position English language training was increasing around the world.  There were some minor moves to learn these languages, just like some people or businesses will have people within their company that know the language of their main suppliers or customers.

China is currently the second largest or largest economy in the world and has been the fastest growing economy for many years.  There has been a big move to learn Chinese among people around the world.  This would be people that can see an economic advantage from learning Chinese.  It is probably better for a company to deal with their clients in their language and not force them to speak your language.

Is speaking their language of the same economic value to a company when dealing with their clients, or dealing with their suppliers?  Speaking from a selling point of view, I believe that companies would be in a better position if they know the language of their clients.  This at least shows the client that you have gone that extra step to serve them.  It is logical for the seller to make more of an effort in a business relationship than the buyer.  Conversely, while it would be nice to speak the language of your supplier, it is the supplier who should go the extra step when selling to their client.

How does this Affect the Discussion around Chinese and the Future of English Language Training?

Let’s look at what China’s economy is based on.  China is a big exporter to the rest of the world, as well as being a centre for ODM and OEM, in other words they manufacture for many international companies.  As an exporter and a manufacturer for others, China is a supplier.  As we talked about, suppliers are the ones that should know the language of their major customers and not the buyers know the language of their suppliers (though it is a nice gesture).  We see that China has large trade imbalances with many nations around the world, which shows that China is a net seller and not a net buyer.  This means that they are mostly a supplier and not a customer.  If this is the case, the pressure for learning Chinese is not as great as learning English.  Many of the English speaking countries such as Britain, USA, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand are buyers of overseas products.

Will it Supplant English and English Language Training?

Not in the near future.  One of the main reasons is inertia.   Inertia is the force that keeps something moving in the same direction that it is heading and it is affected by the mass (size and weight) of the object of idea, and something with a big inertia needs time and a big force in another direction to make changes.   English has been the language of business for many years and many current business people and current students have learned English.  I say that English is the language of business because, when companies from different countries that don’t speak English, they usually use English to communicate.  The exceptions would be companies that deal mostly with one or two non-English speaking companies and they might or should have people in key positions that speak those languages.  There is still a sizable English language consumer market in the world.  As well, there are many business people today that use English as their business communication language.  If everyone today switched to learning Chinese, it would still be many years before most people would use Chinese as the language of business.

What does this mean for the future of English language training?

It will still be needed due to the fact that some of the large economies speak English, three out of the G7 are English speaking countries.  It will be reduced as people move towards learning other languages – Chinese, Spanish, etc.  Therefore, In the future it will be lower than today, and Chinese language training will become more common.  Will it take over?  That will depend on many factors (political and economic) over which we do not have much control and we are not easily able to predict.

China will become the world’s largest economy, but it will be based more on manufacturing, selling internally, and selling to other countries.  Currently there is not as much importing into China as you see in other large economies as evidenced by their large trade surpluses with many other countries.  You will also see in the business world that companies that sell to other companies usually need to speak the language of that company.  The reverse is generally not needed for buyers.  When marketing, the selling company should put in more effort than the buying company.  If you want to sell to North America – speak English.  If you want to sell to China – speak Chinese.  As China becomes the largest buying nation you will see more of a move towards learning Chinese.  Even then, English will probably stay for a while as the language of business due to inertia.   English language training business will still be needed to a large extent.

What does this Mean for English Language Training Teachers?

The good ones will remain, especially those with niche markets (grammar, presentations, pronunciation, etc.).  The big language schools (the English factories) will probably disappear – there will be exceptions.  If the big language schools have transitioned into other languages then they will have a chance of survival.  The smaller, good schools will survive in some form or another.  Some of the schools will expand into other languages or other subjects to survive.  We have seen this before when a large market has disappeared.  There is the example of saddles, a market that almost completely disappeared after the adoption of automobiles for transportation, where only some small saddle makers survived to supply the much smaller market.  Another example is carriage makers, whose business declined with the rise of the automobile.  Some of them survived by making the body and suspension of the early automobiles.

Let us hope that English language training will not become a small niche market similar to saddle makers.  In the future you will see a decline in English language training and an increase in Chinese (there has been an ongoing increase in Chinese language training especially in Asian countries).  But the demand level for English training will still remain high.  For the near future it will remain as the language of business with some pockets of other languages.  English language training is still valuable in today’s world, but I do see it declining in the coming years.


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