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Ruling affirms right to apply in Swedish for academic posts in Sweden

SWEDEN, September 25, 2011—Three Swedish universities, which had placed job advertisements requiring certain applications to be filed in English, are now being told to change their approach after a recent decision that gives a primary role to the national language.

According to the decision, which was handed down late last month, Swedish universities cannot demand applications only in English without the possibility of applying in Swedish.

The office of the Parliamentary Ombudsmen issued the ruling against three universities: the University of Goteborg, the Royal Institute of Technology and the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences.

Catrine Bjorkman, a case handler at the ombudsmen’s office, said that by requiring job applications to be completed in English, the universities were denying the right of Swedish applicants to use Swedish when communicating with public institutions, as required under a 2009 law.

“According to the Language Act, common citizens should be entitled to communicate with Swedish authorities in Swedish,” she said in a telephone interview from Stockholm last week.

The decision was made even though Sweden normally takes pride in its high level of English proficiency, especially in higher education.

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Fear for jobs ignites “English crisis” in Japan
By Mariko Katsumura, Reuters

TOKYO, September 22, 2011—It’s eight in the morning in a Tokyo office building, and a dozen middle-aged Japanese businessmen sit inside small booths, sweating as they try to talk English to the instructors in front of them.

“I hope my wife will understand my hobby,” one 40-something man says, opening his mouth widely around the English words.

He is one of legions of Japanese businessmen, or “salarymen,” struggling with a language they thought they had left behind them in school as fears mount that the growing push by Japanese companies into overseas business will mean a dark future for them without usable English.

This is especially true these days, with the strong yen and a lagging domestic market prompting more firms to look overseas for business opportunities essential for their bottom lines.

“I had a business trip to Amsterdam last year and that really was tough. My boss spoke no English, and I had to speak English for the first time in 10 years," said Masahide Tachibana, a 39-year-old software developer.

Tachibana now gets up at 5:00 a.m. to take morning lessons at a central Tokyo branch of Gaba, an English language school.

Japan, despite being the world’s third-largest economy and a major export powerhouse, is known for its poor English-speaking ability even though six years of study are required in middle and high school.

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Dictionary charts the ins and outs of word usage
By John Timpane, Philadelphia Inquirer

PHILADELPHIA, September 18, 2011—I’ll tell you what the key is,” says Peter Sokolowski, editor at large at Merriam-Webster Inc. “The key is usage.”

He’s explaining how the folks at Merriam-Webster, the dictionary company, decide what words are in, out, and almost there.

They don’t go according to rules. Or according to notions of what’s “proper” or not. They go by how people today use English.

Duh? Pretty innocuous? It's just words, right? In a book?

In fact, such decisions affect the word choices of millions of people—and so they can be pretty controversial.

Which shows the difference between what we think language is (fixed, with eternally clear rights and wrongs) and what it really is (dynamic, organic, ever-changing).

This summer, Merriam-Webster, as it often does, released a list of words new to the 11th edition of the Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary. Some of the 150 newbies are familiar from the Web: “tweet,” “crowdsourcing,” “social media.” Others, such as “boomerang child” and “helicopter parent,” are from social discourse. Still others, such as “bromance” and “cougar,” are good old slang. The “fist bump” has been around since at least the 1960s, but the affectionate Obamas have made it part of parlance.

They all belong, says Sokolowski. People have been using them a lot for a long time. And that gets you in.

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Global language league tables pointless, says British linguist
By David Graddol, Guardian Weekly

September 13, 2011—Does China now speak English better than India? Will Spain soon challenge Scandinavia in English-language abilities?

A global league table of English proficiency recently published by the multinational language education provider English First (the EF English Proficiency Index) suggests the answer to the first question is “yes,” and to the second, “no.” The EF index both confirms common knowledge, but will raise eyebrows elsewhere: the Scandinavian countries, with the Netherlands, are top of the list in “a high proficiency” group, but Poland beats Switzerland and Hong Kong, and is just below Malaysia. China, meanwhile, trumps India, which in turn only marginally betters Brazil. But is India really in the same league as Brazil when it comes to English?

I’ve been monitoring the changing fortunes of English in different countries for some years. Indeed, the EF report draws indirectly on my own publications. But I have never attempted to produce a “country index” of this kind, and for good reasons.

The first is lack of data. There is no standard way of describing language proficiency: in each country different kinds of tests are used, and results are often difficult to obtain. For example, the EF index claims China beats India but as I found out when I was researching my report for the British Council, English Next India, it remains a mystery exactly how many people in India speak English and to what level of proficiency.

Some countries regard the results of national exams as “state secrets,” and the detailed results of exams by independent organisations are often commercial secrets. Which independent exam provider would publish even the number of test-takers in each country?

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Most useful business language after English is Mandarin Chinese
By John Lauerman,

August 31, 2011—Mandarin, China’s official tongue, is also the top language worldwide for business other than English, according to Bloomberg Rankings.

Mandarin, spoken by 845 million people, scored highest in a ranking of languages, excluding English, based on business usefulness. The ranking scored languages according to the number of speakers, number of countries where the language is official, along with those nations’ populations, financial power, educational and literacy rates, and related measures.

French, spoken by 68 million people worldwide and the official language of 27 countries, was ranked second, followed by Arabic, which is spoken by 221 million people and is official in 23 nations. Mandarin is unlikely to supplant English soon as the primary language of business, said Leigh Hafrey, a senior lecturer in communications and ethics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Sloan School of Management.

“In much the same way that the dollar remains the preferred currency, English will remain the preferred language for the foreseeable future,” Hafrey said in a telephone interview.

Mandarin speakers can gain an advantage in doing business in China, Hafrey said.

“Speaking the language confers a huge advantage for anyone who wants to do business in a non-English-speaking country,” he said. “It gives you flexibility, knowledge that you need, and personal connections that can make a difference in the speed and effectiveness of your negotiations.”

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Happy words trump negativity in the English language
By Brandon Keim,

August 30, 2011—A massive language study, spanning Google Books, Twitter, popular songs lyrics and The New York Times, has found that English tends to look on the bright side of things. Positive words outnumber the negative. The findings are preliminary, but they offer a glimpse of the origins and fundamental nature of English, and perhaps of language itself.

“In taking the view that humans are in part storytellers — Homo narrativus — we can look to language itself for quantifiable evidence of our social nature,” wrote mathematicians from Cornell University and the University of Vermont in an Aug. 29 arxiv paper.

While traditional explanations for the exceptionally rich evolution of human language have involved explicitly goal-directed behaviors like coordinating a hunt, some anthropologists see language as a vehicle for humanity’s essential social characteristics, especially our capacities for sharing, altruism and other “pro-social” behavior. From this perspective, language should reflect underlying social imperatives.

However, earlier research into emotional and social architectures underlying English has returned conflicting results. Relatively small-scale analyses find that frequently used words tend to have positive rather than negative emotional connotations: the so-called Pollyanna hypothesis, which states that pleasant, optimistic concepts spread more easily than negative, pessimistic sentiments. But in experimental settings, people prompted to convey emotion have tended to be negative.

Led by the University of Vermont’s Isabel Klouman, the researchers decided to approach the question with overwhelming mathematical force. They analyzed four enormous textual databases… and compiled for each a list of the 5,000 most-used words.

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Infants are quick to pick up languages, new study finds

August 29, 2011—Infants have a remarkable prowess at learning a second language, but that ability begins to fade as early as their first birthdays, according to a new study reported in the Journal of Phonetics.

In the current study by a postdoctoral researcher at University of Washington's Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences, babies from monolingual (English or Spanish) and bilingual (English and Spanish) households wore caps fitted with electrodes to measure brain activity with an electroencephalogram, or EEG, a device that records the flow of energy in the brain.

The babies heard background speech sounds in one language, and then a contrasting sound in the other language occurred occasionally.

The researchers found that monolingual babies at 6-9 months of age showed the mismatch response for both the Spanish and English contrasting sounds, indicating that they noticed the change in both languages.

But at 10-12 months of age, monolingual babies only responded to the English contrasting sound. Bilingual babies showed a different pattern. At 6-9 months, bilinguals did not show the mismatch response, but at 10-12 months they showed the mismatch for both sounds.

This suggests that the bilingual brain remains flexible to languages for a longer period of time, possibly because bilingual infants are exposed to a greater variety of speech sounds at home, said postdoctoral researcher Adrian Garcia-Sierra, the study’s lead author.

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China’s presumptive premier-to-be busts out English skills
By Jason Dean and Chester Yung, Wall Street Journal

HONG KONG, August 17, 2011—Chinese Vice Premier Li Keqiang, widely expected to replace Wen Jiabao as premier in 18 months, showed off his English-language skills at a speech Thursday morning on a high-profile trip to Hong Kong.

In the final moments of an 11-minute address at The University of Hong Kong, Mr. Li surprised an audience of top political and business leaders when he switched to speak in English, expressing confidently his praise for the accomplishments of Hong Kong’s oldest university. Unlike most universities in China and Hong Kong, English is HKU’s main language of instruction.

“HKU…has become a key higher education institution in China, playing an increasingly important role in China’s development and integration with the world,” Mr. Li said, at times pausing to ensure that each word was spoken clearly.

Previous Chinese leaders have been relatively eager to showcase their English acumen–in particular Jiang Zemin, who was known to recite the Gettysburg Address and croon Elvis Presley songs. The current crop of top officials has been less demonstrative of its foreign-language skills–and generally more guarded, especially President Hu Jintao

Even less is known about the rising generation of rulers: Mr. Li and current Vice President Xi Jinping…

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Improve your employability with an English language course

UNITED KINGDOM, August 18, 2011—Did you know a Malaysian pilot, with a Japanese co-pilot, flying in a South African plane, over Norwegian airspace, would communicate with a Swedish air-traffic controller in English?

The accepted language of international air travel for pilots and air-traffic control operators is English. And the fact remains that this language is still, for a high percentage of the world’s business population, the language of trade, industry and commerce. It is therefore highly likely that whatever your profession (or even if you are seeking work at present), the fact that you have a good understanding of the English language can be extremely useful, and can dramatically boost your employability.

As the Internet continues to make our local workplaces increasingly intertwined with global operations, the need for every worker to have at least a rudimentary grasp of a common language is vital. New technology is creating links between businesses that last much longer than a simple phone call. One company, for example, has taken advantage of super-fast broadband and Skype to set up a 24-hour link between the UK and Japan, so workers can discuss key elements of their work in real time with their Japanese or English counterparts. Suffice to say, the language in which this vital work is conducted is English.

The increasing ease with which we can travel the globe has resulted in many people choosing to live and work in a different country from the one in which they grew up. If you are part of a multi-national organisation it is relatively easy to transfer to an office in another country. The result of this is that many companies now conduct all their business in English. For employees coming from another country to work in England English courses in UK language schools offer an insight into how to develop language skills for their role.

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“Sexting,” “retweet” added as new words in Oxford Dictionary

MANILA, August 19, 2011—The newly-released edition of the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) has included social media and web-related terms such as “sexting,” “retweet,” and “woot” as new words.

The Concise Oxford English Dictionary added to its 12th edition over 400 new word entries.

“Sexting” is defined as “the sending of sexually explicit photographs or messages via mobile phone”; “retweet” as “repost or forward” of message on social networking site Twitter; and,
“woot” as a word used to express elation, enthusiasm, or triumph.

Other words such as “textspeak” and “cyberbullying” are also in the dictionary’s latest edition.

This is not the first time such terms have been included in the dictionary, which OED 12th edition editor Angus Stevenson said “has always sought to be progressive and up to date.”

“Google,” “iPod,” “podcasting” are already in the dictionary.

According to Stevenson, the creativity of today’s Internet-using generation has given birth to a range of unusual sounding words.

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Indian women bloggers find their voice, in their own language
By Nilanjana S. Roy, The New York Times
NEW DELHI, August 9, 2011—Rashmi Swaroop, who just completed her M.B.A. exams in the small tourist town of Ajmer, Rajasthan, is celebrating on her blog. Over at the popular Bengali-language site Desh-Bidesh, Nasim, a resident of Kolkata in her 60s, shares memories of the city in the years after India achieved independence in 1947. Kalki Subramaniam, an actress and transgender rights advocate, has kicked off a debate on marriage for transgendered people.

As the Internet opens up to different Indian languages, the profile of India’s female bloggers is turning out to be far more complex than many commentators might have suspected.

Ms. Swaroop writes in Hindi, Ms. Nasim and the other posters on Desh-Bidesh blog in Bengali, and Ms. Subramaniam’s two blogs are in Tamil and English.

Until recently, it would have been hard for anyone who did not speak the original languages to follow their blogs. The Indian blogosphere, a thriving community of millions now, was long constrained by language.

In 2006, Ravishankar Shrivastava, a Hindi blogger and freelance technical consultant and translator, estimated that there were fewer than 300 Hindi-language bloggers — abysmally low for a language with more than 400 million speakers in India — and about 2,000 Tamil bloggers across the whole of India. By contrast, English-language bloggers then were estimated at 40,000.

The problem was technical. At the time, the Internet in India was primarily in English. Though individual bloggers in various Indian languages have gone online for more than a decade, it required higher than average computer skills and comfort with a Roman alphabet keyboard. It was only about three years ago that access to Indic scripts became easy enough that ordinary users could engage in discussions in their own language.

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China’s drive to teach English stalls in the west
By Chris Tribble, Guardian Weekly

LANZHOU, August 2, 2011—Lanzhou, the capital city of Gansu province, held its first international marathon last month. While this relatively remote city in north-west China has been attempting to raise its profile through the athletics event, thousands, if not millions, of students in the region are running their own personal marathons as they race to learn English.

Gansu is one of China's poorest provinces and is struggling to emulate the economic growth and prosperity of the country’s east coast regions. The population of Lanzhou has risen from 2 million in 2000 to over 3 million today. According to the environmental consultancy the Blacksmith Institute it ranks among the world's 30 most polluted cities.

In a bid to stem migration away from blighted cities such as Lanzhou and Xining, the capital of neighbouring Qinghai province, to the jobs and prosperity of the eastern cities, the central government in Beijing has been investing in infrastructure and jobs. These western cities are now doing everything they can to be part of China's next success story. A knowledge of English is seen as an essential skill to transform their populations into a high-value workforce.

While a national campaign for education renewal, including wholesale reform of English language teaching, started at the beginning of the last decade, its effects were only felt in Gansu and Qinghai in 2005…

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European framework in ascendancy on English competence
By John Ross, The Australian

AUSTRALIA, August 6, 2011—IELTS, which is about to lose its monopoly position as the English language test for student visa purposes, also risks losing its default position as a means of expressing English language competence.

IELTS is used generically in Australia to express minimum requirements for academic selection, skilled migration and professional entry in fields such as accounting and nursing. But a British expert said it could surrender this role to the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages.

“There’s a lot of evidence that the CEFR will become the standard way people talk about language proficiency,” said Michael Milanovic, chief executive of IELTS co-owners Cambridge ESOL.

Dr Milanovic said the CEFR was already the standard reference in Europe and increasingly in Asia, the Middle East and parts of Latin America.

He said it was a more effective reference point because it had very detailed descriptors and wasn’t tied to a product. “Access to a product is always more limited than access to a concept,” he said.

Popular tests such as IELTS, Cambridge English Advanced, Pearson Test of English Academic and the Test of English as a Foreign Language all have their own scales, he said. “Equating them is difficult because you’re talking about different ways of testing, and testing different things.”

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