As the international language powering world trade, the English language is an essential business tool for innovative organisations. By Stephen Carey at the International English Language Testing System (IELTS)
As the world has become more globalised and interconnected than ever before, being multilingual has become increasingly important and often seen as essential. As new economies develop rapidly, the value of being able to speak Mandarin, Arabic and Hindi is increasing. However, English remains the leading international language, with an estimated 1.5 billion speakers across the world.
The dominance of English is arguably greater than the powerful reach of Latin in the ancient world. It is the language of modern scholarship, the Internet and technology, the global media and advertising, international politics and diplomacy, and particularly, global business. The prolific growth of English is both a result and cause of globalisation. The boom in international trade has brought people from all cultures and countries together to exchange goods and services. However, the role that English has played in driving global trade and reducing the sense of distance between countries is often overlooked.
With more people on the move today than at any other point in human history, English has increasingly become the ?lingua franca? for international trade. This is powerfully underlined by the calculation that an estimated 80% of those communicating in English are non-native speakers.
Consequently, English is the most widely studied second language in the world and its role as a communicative currency means that ensuring consistent standards of English across the world is central to its value. Many non-native English speakers seeking to work or study in English-speaking countries need to take a language test to demonstrate their ability to communicate. For this purpose IELTS, the International English Language Testing System, is currently taken by more than a million people annually who wish to pursue higher-education, immigration and employment opportunities abroad.
Jointly managed by the British Council, IDP: IELTS Australia and the University of Cambridge ESOL Examinations (Cambridge ESOL) in over 125 countries, IELTS was one of the pioneers of English language testing 20 years ago and continues to set the standard for English language testing today. Students participate from the far corners of the world where there are IELTS test centres, with locations as diverse as Argentina, Uganda, Syria and China.
The three organisations bring a wealth of linguistic and cultural expertise to how the test is designed and delivered to ensure that it remains relevant around the world. With over 1.2m people taking IELTS in 2008, successful candidates attest to both the rigour of the test and the opportunities it brings them to study or work abroad. But how do candidates raise their level of English to the level required by the global recognising organisations?
To meet this challenge, the British Council is now taking advantage of technology by rolling out the free online preparation course, the Road to IELTS, to candidates who register at its test centres and the test centres it manages. This newly redesigned course will provide fresh content on a regular basis, as well as allowing a candidate who has only a few weeks between registration and test date a manageable amount of material that they can prepare for. It contains 120 hours of content, divided into four 30-hour blocks, which are refreshed quarterly. This online version is the first stage of a programme of initiatives to meet the needs of British Council candidates for a greater variety ? in both content and delivery methods ? of preparation materials.
IELTS has seen incredible growth having been at the forefront of English language testing for the last two decades. The numbers of candidates taking the test have more than doubled in the last three years, clearly illustrating increasing international travel as well as the rise of English speakers in emerging and developing markets. IELTS is one of the fastest-growing English language tests in the world, accepted by over 6,000 organisations and used for entry into almost all highereducation institutions in Australia, the UK, Canada, Ireland and New Zealand. It is relied on by professional bodies like the Australian and General Medical Council and commercial organisations such as Shell, Maersk and the International Monetary Fund.
In addition, many governments in English-speaking countries now require incoming migrants to take a language test for citizenship. English language testing has a valuable role to play to ensure that these migrants genuinely have the practical language skills to add value and make the most of their experiences in another country.
As the stakes are so high, there is a crucial role for English language test providers such as IELTS to play in ensuring appropriate standards of English. English language tests need to be fit for purpose ? not just about allowing students to ?tick boxes?, but providing a reliable and consistent test qualification that demonstrates a genuine, practical level of ability to communicate in the real world.
This means testing English language skills in a way that is ?true-to-life? and provides an accurate reflection of a candidate?s ability using all four language skills ? speaking, reading, writing and listening. For instance, IELTS is unique in testing candidates? speaking skills face-to-face with a trained examiner, demonstrating their ability to communicate in a real-life situation, not just responding to recorded prompts.
Ensuring the integrity and standard of the English language worldwide is important to provide a communications platform for the global economy and maximising the value of migration, but this must also be teamed with the recognition that English is now a world language. The diverse mix of people from a host of cultures and countries has led to the emergence of many variations, including what is termed ?international English?. IELTS works hard to ensure that the test reflects the cosmopolitan and global candidate body.
Ultimately, the English language has a leading role to play in a globalised world: providing a common platform for international trade; driving global collaboration and thinking; breaking down the barriers between cultures; and opening the door of opportunity around the world. It is important that English language tests continue to play a central role in ensuring accurate and consistent high standards for life in the real world.
IELTS is committed to being at the forefront of this, pioneering world-class research with the largest in-house research team of any English language test, as well as a funded programme of international independent research, which has already published nine volumes of over 70 individual reports.
For more information, visit: www.ielts.org
Added the 06 October 2009 in category Innovation UK Vol5-2