What will happen to private language schools as English becomes taught more as a universal skill in schools around the world? The simple answer is that no-one can tell you for certain – but we can make some logical predictions, based on industry trends.
The more complex answer is that the future depends on the motivations of our learners, and so we need to interpret the reasons behind their motivations to find the answer. Reasons that involve myriad demographic, economic, technological, societal and cultural factors.
The number of English learners is likely to peak at around 2 billion in the next 10 years, with most learners coming from developing countries. At the same time, there is an increasing need for English to act as a lingua franca, as migration from these developing countries (whether for work, humanitarian needs, or other) has never been higher.
English has caused a huge amount of internal migration within developing countries, as business process outsourcing in large cities has drawn in all the English speaking talent from surrounding regions (think call centres in India). This unintentionally re-distributes wealth, widening the wealth gap between urban and rural areas.
Researchers have correlated access to English language education to increased salary, and patterns of wealth and poverty are similarly correlated in many developing countries. This may change as English slowly becomes a near-universal skill, with many national education systems teaching English language from an increasingly young age.
Quite apart from the internet being able to deliver low-cost or free language education to anywhere the net is, technology has been levelling the playing field. English has allowed an increasing number of disparate viewpoints to be heard.
At the same time, the amount of English being used on the internet is decreasing in proportion to other languages, and lesser-used (and even endangered) languages are being enjoying an upswing in usage.
Tech is also changing the way we use English, with texting, tweeting and other new forms of communication gaining and maintaining popularity.
The world is becoming more urban and middle class, which is encouraging the adoption of English as families push themselves to gain a competitive edge.
At the same time, multilingualism is growing. Groups of migrants live in a society where they don’t need to use the local language to live, work or survive. Through technology, these groups are closer to distant friends and family than the society around them. This can also lead to a growing gap within families – children who grow up in a ‘new’ country may not be able to speak to their grandparents.
The English language itself is changing, as the majority of English interactions now take place between two non-native speakers. This is leading to new words, slang and phonemic patterns in a new ‘Global English’ that is constantly evolving. Native speakers may even have to face being left behind in their own language!
The idea used to be ‘English as a global language’, but perhaps now, it would be more suitable as ‘global English as a global language’.
The demand for English language education is growing, but so is multilingualism and multiculturalism. So no, the ESL industry isn’t dying, but the learners that we cater for have evolving needs, and we as English teachers have to be ready to adapt to meet them at both an institutional and individual level.
Just as every market mirrors its customers, so emerging trends in ESL will be reflected in the TEFL industry, and ultimately in your job description.