The English Language

The English language is evolving – here’s how it will change after Brexit


Emma Seddon, Newcastle University

Britain is facing an uncertain future and an uneasy relationship with Europe after Brexit. Among other things, the country’s woeful inability to learn languages has been raised as a key stumbling block – with the decline in foreign language learning among school and university students across the UK also raising alarm.

English is one of the official languages of the EU, along with 22 others, and also one of the three working languages of its institutions (with German and French). On top this, English is the most commonly taught foreign language in Europe, which is a major factor in why it is the most commonly used working language. Although not everyone is happy about this, including the French EU ambassador who recently walked out of a meeting on the EU budget when the Council decided to use only English translations.

So, even if Britain leaves the EU, English will remain not only an official language –- because of the member status of Malta and Ireland –- but it will likely also remain the principal working language of the EU institutions.

English is also often used globally as a common language between speakers of different languages. In other words, conversations are happening in English that do not involve native English speakers. This, of course, has a long and fraught colonial past – as the British Empire forced English on its colonies. But the decline of the Empire did not mean the decline of English. On the contrary, as the US rose to be a global economic power, globalisation drove the spread of English across the world – and continues to do so. And the European Union is no exception.

‘EU English’

As part of my ongoing PhD research on the translation profession, I interviewed some British translators working at the European Commission. From their perspective, English will remain the principal working language following Brexit, as switching to only French and German, or adding another language would be unrealistic and require a huge investment in training by the EU. Instead, they report that English will continue to be used, and will simply evolve and change in these settings.

So-called “EU speak” is an example of this. Non-native speakers’ use of English is influenced by their native languages, and can result in different phrasing. For example, within the EU institutions, “training” is often used as a countable noun, meaning you can say: “I’ve had three trainings this week”. In British English, however, it is uncountable, meaning you would probably say something like: “I’ve had three training sessions this week”.

This is a minor linguistic point, but it shows how English is changing within the EU institutions due to the influence of non-native speakers. For the time being, native English speaking translators and editors limit the extent of these changes – particularly in documentation intended for the public.

But if Britain leaves the EU, there will be a dramatically reduced pool of native English speakers to recruit from, because you need to have an EU passport to work in the institutions. As people retire, fewer native speakers will work in the EU, meaning they will have less and less influence on and authority over the use of English in these contexts. This means “EU English” will likely move away from British English at a faster pace.

Englishes and linguistic change

Such change is nothing new – especially with English. “Singlish” or Singaporean English has its roots in colonial rule and has since become independent from British English, integrating grammar and vocabulary from languages that reflect Singapore’s immigrant history – including Malay, Cantonese, Mandarin, and Tamil among others. Singlish has developed its own words and expressions out of this hybrid of languages and has evolved and shifted in response to the migrations of peoples and cultures, new technologies and social change.

Only time will tell whether “EU English” will ever move so far from its moorings. But, according to one translator I spoke to, even if Britain were to stay in the EU, English would continue to change within the institutions:

English doesn’t belong to us anymore as Brits, as native speakers, it belongs to everyone.

And the frequent exposure to and use of English in daily life means other language communities are increasingly gaining a sense of ownership over the language.

The ubiquity of English is sometimes touted as a demonstration of the enduring importance of Britain – and the US – on the world stage. From what I have seen researching translation, this assumption in fact shows how complacent English speaking countries have become.

This does not mean the economic, cultural, and military power of these countries should be dismissed. But this doesn’t change the fact that English is used as a common language in interactions that do not involve any of those countries – take, for example, a Slovenian cyclist being interviewed in English by a French journalist about his performance in the Italian cycling event Giro d’Italia.

Linguistic diversity certainly needs to be championed to ensure we do not lose humanity’s great variety of languages and dialects, and some great work is being done on this. Nevertheless, it is clear that English has developed a role distinct from its native speakers as a shared language that facilitates communication in an increasingly globalised world.

Emma Seddon, PhD Candidate in the School of Geography, Politics and Sociology, Newcastle University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

How giving young people basic financial skills helps them find jobs

Giving young people financial skills can lead to much better education and job outcomes. Shutterstock

Leila Patel, University of Johannesburg; Lauren Graham, University of Johannesburg, and Zoheb Khan, University of Johannesburg

The picture in South Africa is a bleak one for the average 15 – 24 year old. Many have finished their schooling with a qualification of little value in the eyes of employers. And they lack the basic skills that employers now need. The result is that a staggering 39,6% (narrow definition) or 55,2% (expanded definition which includes those who have stopped actively looking for work) are unemployed.

South Africa has grappled with high unemployment for many years and the private sector, civil society and government have invested heavily in interventions to address the problem. Youth Employability Programmes are one such example. These programmes aim to help young people make the transition from school to work more seamlessly via skills training.

They are part of a broad suite of programmes designed to drive growth and employment. But there seems to be a piece missing from existing schemes: giving young people basic financial skills. Other countries have found that giving young people these skills leads to much better education outcomes. For example, they’ve led to better secondary schooling outcomes in Ghana. And in Uganda they have been shown to increase financial security in vulnerable households. In the US they have helped promote transitions to college in poor communities.

We did a study to find out whether including financial skills in existing programmes could help more young people find and keep work.

The answer is yes. We found that providing young people with financial capabilities does improve the picture. Those who got the training were nine percentage points more likely to be employed than those who did not two years after completing the training.

Tracking over six years

The study, launched in 2013, tracked 1974 people who participated in one of eight Youth Employability Programmes at 44 sites across the country. Half of the training sites were randomly assigned to receive a short savings and basic financial management training module and access to a no-cost bank account.

We followed these two groups of young people as they entered the programmes and up to two years after completing their training to understand whether financial capability training should be a complementary intervention offered to young people.

The study participants were predominantly African (94,4%), women and from poor backgrounds, with an average per capita income of R527. This places them below the upper-bound poverty line. Most participants had experienced food insecurity in the year prior to joining the programme.

The majority of participants had a matric certificate – the equivalent of 12 years of schooling – and over half had some prior work experience, primarily short-term contract work, while a few had self-employment experience. Just under a third had started a post-secondary qualification. Despite this the vast majority were unemployed at the start of the study and 78% had been chronically unemployed (unemployed for longer than one year).

What we found

We tracked and interviewed the study participants before, during and after their training. During a period corresponding to between 12 and 24 months after their training, young people who received the financial capability training were nine percentage points more likely to be employed than those who did not receive the intervention.

Importantly, the financial capability intervention also had positive effects for young people who remained unemployed. They were more likely to persist with work seeking than those who did not.

Interestingly, young people who received the training did not differ in their reported savings behaviour from those in the control group. From this we can see that the effect of the intervention is likely due to the financial literacy training, and not the savings account.

What next?

We cannot definitively say why young people who received the financial literacy training showed better employment outcomes. One hypothesis is that improved financial literacy helps young people manage what little money they have better and this in turn helps them manage the high cost of work-seeking, especially in low-income households.

Read more: South Africa’s youth speak out on the high cost of finding work

Another possibility is that the financial literacy training promotes belief in oneself, which in turn facilitates improved job search. It certainly appeared to be the case that those who received the treatment did have slightly higher levels of self-esteem after the intervention than those who did not receive the intervention.

The possibility of growth in self esteem supports other research which shows that improved financial literacy is associated with a greater sense of future orientation, increased motivation and the desire to achieve their own goals.

The outcomes from the study are compelling. Although it’s unclear exactly how financial literacy training works, this kind of programme does seem promising as a complementary intervention to existing programmes for young people.

Leila Patel, Professor of Social Development Studies, University of Johannesburg; Lauren Graham, Associate professor at the Centre for Social Development in Africa, University of Johannesburg, University of Johannesburg, and Zoheb Khan, Researcher, University of Johannesburg

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.