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ELT in Europe to drop by 10% by 2025, says British Council

English language learners across the European Union will decrease in the seven years to 2025, but the reliance from business and trade on the language means the industry should not reach for panic stations yet, according to a new report commissioned by the British Council.

The British Council report has found that despite a drop in EU school numbers, older learners may provide continuity for the sector. Photo: Flickr/motiqua

English is regarded as safe in its position due to the perceived difficulty of learning Mandarin for Europeans

The ‘Future Demand for English in Europe: 2025 and Beyond’ report, which was carried out by Trajectory, found that English learner numbers will drop by 10% by 2025, despite wide-spread government investment in second language studies across Europe. However, at least 3.2% of the in-school drop can be attributed to declining birth rates, the study claims.

The 15-34 age range will experience a drop of 15.7%, while the 35-54 group will fall by 16.4 %. Both of these groups are declining in size due to demographic changes – but the report also notes that increasing investment will actually lead to fewer young people starting English courses due to improved proficiency.

“In all likelihood its global reach will increase because important emerging economies such as China will continue to use English”

However, a balancing factor will be the over-55 age group, according to the research carried out. The lower education funding available to this group when they were school age, their willingness to re-learn, and the possibility of more free time all mean the proclivity to attend English classes will rise slightly in this group.

Although a drop of 10% in learners sounds dramatic, the British Council report notes that language schools may not be as affected by digital progress such as bots and instant-translation apps as often assumed.

But the report projects the ELT landscape up to 2025, and makes clear that language schools should not rest on laurels, as change is in fact coming.

“It is only a matter of time before a successful technologically enhanced delivery model is developed that meets consumer demands for personalised, purpose- specific and time-efficient learning and tackles some of the shortcomings of current digital products,” the report posits.

Director of English EU at the British Council, Chris Brandwood, told The PIE News that language schools should be prepared for a changing market, both with technology and changing customer needs. 

“‘Consumer demand’ elements will become increasingly important – with flexible, tailored, immediate and specific, targeted goals in learning to be met. Employers too are looking for people who can use language effectively in a sector specific setting,” he said. 

Outside of the school scenario ELT does not promise to decline as rapidly. Businesses, politicians and officials across the EU will continue to use English, despite European Commission leader Juncker’s promise that it would “lose importance” in the continent.

As French prime minister Édouard Philipe told EDHEC Business School students in Lille recently: “English is now the lingua franca. That’s how it is. You have to speak English if you want to act and move in globalisation”.

Notably, this view is shared by language tutors in the European capital, Brussels. The director of Berlitz language schools in Belgium, Serge Langerock, said after Juncker’s speech that the firm expected no drop in importance for the English language.

“English is now the lingua franca. That’s how it is”

However, dean of EDHEC, Emmanuel Métais warned English speaking nations not to be complacent in the long term.

“Several factors could induce changes in the long term. Economic dynamics for example: if tomorrow Africa continues its economic development, its 120 million Francophones could be tempted to trade in the language of Molière,” he posited. “The political dynamics that make Anglo-Saxon countries traditionally open to the world to more protectionism, thus reducing economic and human flows on their territories,” he added. 

The paper also notes that the use of English as the international trade lingua franca will boost ELT outside of Europe.

“In all likelihood its global reach will increase in the time period covered because important emerging economies such as China and India already use and will continue to use English as their relay language,” it read. The US market will also remain the largest English-speaking market, and will continue to be so.

Although Mandarin speakers will number in the many millions by 2025, English is regarded as safe in its position due to the perceived difficulty of learning Mandarin for Europeans.

All told, the British Council concludes that due to investment in ELT from European governments (such as Spain and Italy) and the continued use of English as the global language of business, growth and continuity will keep the feared results of Brexit far from reality. Though the in-classroom learners of school age may decline, it surmises, there will be balance due to “the demand from learners wanting to improve their proficiency,” of which face-to-face learning will be at least a component.

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