Profs receive research funding to study English language teaching in Asia

French may be the language of love but, for many, English has come to be known as the international language of business and commerce. As Asia ascends in economic power and influence, the demand there for English language teaching (ELT) escalates. Yet no systematic research has yet been undertaken by anyone to determine the extent of Canada’s participation in this market and its potential future involvement – until now. Professors Eve Haque and Mihyon Jeon of the Department of Languages, Literature & Linguistics in York’s Faculty of Arts have received funding from The Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada to undertake such research.

Left: Professors Eve Haque and Mihyon Jeon have received funding from The Asia Pacific Foundation to study the extent of Canada’s participation in English language teaching in Asia

Haque and Jeon’s research focuses on participation of Canadians in three government-sponsored English language teaching programs, each of which recruits, trains and administers Canadian teachers of English: the Japan Exchange and Teaching program (JET), the English Program in Korea (EPIK) and Hong Kong’s Native-speaking English Teachers program (NET). The researchers will survey the central participants of the industry: teachers, students, administrators and policy-makers.

The market for English language instruction takes two forms: the domestic market that provides ELT services to visiting students, and the international market that provides ELT instructors to Asia. In 2004, revenue generated across the global ELT market was US$8.3 billion. The United Kingdom dominates the market with a 55.3 per cent share while the United States and Canada claimed, respectively, 17 per cent and 10.8 per cent (source: Language Travel Magazine, 2004). The latter figures are quite good for Canada considering the disparity in population between the two countries. Canada benefits from the currency afforded the American dialect of English, as the Canadian variety is often lumped in with the American, increasingly popular in Asia.

“Much of the UK’s success can be attributed to centralized national control of its education system, coupled with the British Council’s longstanding and active promotion of English language goods and services abroad,” says Haque. "The US relies on free market principles and therefore has not had much direct government involvement and support. Instead, private companies and educational institutions have pursued profits from the domestic and global ELT market of their own initiative.”

How does Canada address the issue?

In 2003, in acknowledgement of the importance of language as a commodity, the Canadian government – under the auspices of Industry Canada – developed the Language Industry Program (LIP). The initiative identifies Canada as a major player in the world’s booming language market. However, Industry Canada also recognized that the Canadian language industry is currently fragmented and lacks visibility. In the same year, the department received $10 million as part of the Action Plan for Official Languages to help the language industry deal with these issues.

The professors say Canadian governmental organizations such as Industry Canada only take into consideration the domestic ELT market, turning a blind eye to the robust international market in which Canadian instructors participate. It’s an attitude contrary to the successful approach undertaken by the UK and represents a major gap in Canada’s understanding of the market.

“The goal of our research project is to fill this gap in the research; to identify strategic policy directions for future engagement by Canadians," says Jeon, "and to suggest how Canada’s language knowledge industry might be leveraged more effectively to meet the considerable – and increasing – demand for language services in Asia, services which will become increasingly instrumental to doing business at home and abroad in this globalizing world.”

An ancillary benefit of the research will be an improved intercultural understanding arising from the interaction of Canadian teachers with Asian students and teachers.

By David Wallace, interim communications coordinator, Faculty of Arts