Chung Dong-young, a former television anchorman and candidate to be president of South Korea, may be behind in the opinion polls but one of his campaign commitments is eye-catching. If elected, he promises a vast increase in English teaching so that young Koreans do not have to go abroad to learn the language. The country needed to “solve the problem of families separated for English learning”, the Korea Times reported him saying.
In China, Yu Minhong has turned New Oriental, the company he founded, into the country’s biggest provider of private education, with more than 1m students over the past financial year, the overwhelming majority learning English. In Chile, the government has said it wants its population to be bilingual in English and Spanish within a generation.
No one is certain how many people are learning English. Ten years ago, the British Council thought it was around 1bn. A report, English Next, published by the council last year, forecast that the number of English learners would probably peak at around 2bn in 10-15 years.
How many people already speak English? David Crystal, one of the world’s leading experts on the language and author of more than 100 books on the subject, estimates that 1.5bn people – around one-quarter of the world’s population – can communicate reasonably well in English.
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