UK plc loses the plot in World Service cutbacks

News of the BBC wielding the axe to its World Service, with more than a quarter of its staff losing their jobs and closing five of its foreign language services is further evidence of UK plc missing the plot.

In my last book, The Upturn’, I talk of ‘Golden Swan’ opportunities – opportunities that land on your lap, usually not of your bidding.

UK plc – the collective body of the UK and its citizens – has enjoyed a phenomenal Golden Swan opportunity. Yet, has failed to develop an effective strategy to seize the phenomenal advantages it could bring.

The rise of ‘Globbish’ or ‘Glocal’ in the last 20 years – where the English language is at the core of a new ‘lingua franca’ (pardon the ironic term) should give us tremendous advantages in the international market.

So, instead of a strategy of the BBC aiming to get 50% of the UK television market, instead it should aim for just 10% – but of the world market, the premium end of the global market with the English language at its core.

Sure, American English may dominate world media culture but ‘English-English’ with a voice articulating the intelligent, the culturally sophisticated would attract a very valuable and powerful niche segment of the global market 

By using the inherent advantage of the English language being our mother tongue, we have a head start over others where English is their second language.

The success of the ‘The King’s Speech’ is a marvellous example of demonstrating the potential of the British cultural product.

I used to have a Danish client and it was a source of mild amusement to hear their otherwise seemingly perfect English marred by an inappropriate colloquialism, such as using the word ‘old’ in the wrong context: “I am just going down the old stairs” was one Scandinavian inexactitude that comes to mind.

I know, their English is far, far superior to my GSCE French or German, but for UK plc, the fact is, being a native English speaker I, along with my fellow natives, do have a head start advantage in using nuance, subteltly and colloquialism in my mother tongue; an advantage that could be turned to a commercial edge for the UK.

The reality of the rise of Globbish/Glocal was brought home to me when speaking last summer at a conference in Stresa, Italy to a European network of university public relations professionals.

There was no debate, no issue about how do people communicate with each other , what is the default universal language. English was the common tongue, and it was an absolute, a given that everyone used it, even among the French contingent.

We in the UK have a wonderful opportunity. A recent article in the ‘Financial Times’ highlighted that in a group of international managers using English, the command of the English-speaker over their language even makes them come across as more intelligent than their non-native English speaking peers.

Sure, I am critical of the BBC World television service, which in my work falls between a number of stools; its focus, I believe, should be on showcasing the best of British broadcasting and cultureYet what do we do in the UK? We amputate, we scale down the cultural wing of UK plc international broadcasting.

Please, let’s all start waking up to the reality of the ‘Golden Swan’ opportunity presented by the rise of ‘Globbish’ or ‘Glocal’ – and let’s recognise the true potential of our old language.

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2 Responses to UK plc loses the plot in World Service cutbacks

  1. Brian Barker says:

    I think that the BBC World Service cuts may well be an unethical attempt to promulgate English as the international language. As a native English speaker, I would prefer Esperanto.

    The use of English is unethical because communication should be for all and not only for an educational or political elite. That is how English is used internationally at the moment.

    Undemocratic, also, because minority languages are under attack worldwide due to the encroachment of majority ethnic languages. Even Mandarin Chinese is attempting to dominate as well. The long-term solution must be found and a non-national language, which places all ethnic languages on an equal footing is essential.

    An interesting video can be seen at http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-8837438938991452670

    The Esperanto study course http://www.lernu.net is currently receiving 120,000 hits per month. That can’t be bad :)

    • Andy Green says:

      I have some sympathy about the political power associated with using a language perceived to be owned by someone else.

      Yet, Esperanto has been around for decades but has not achieved any traction or critical mass to ensure its widespread use.

      Maybe one idea I would suggest is that every time you write about Esperanto you share 4-5 key words, then others may learn a little, and at very least people will know the Esperanto for ‘Hello’, ‘How are you’, and maybe something like ‘Isn’t it stupid others don’t understand Esperanto’.

      Just a thought.

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