Mad About English: A look at 4 Countries and their Use of the English Language

January 7th, 2016

As a child growing up in Tehran, Iran (circa 1960’s & 70’s), I attended Bonyade-Nov, a private co-ed school that covered kindergarten and grades 1-5. In the mornings, our classes were taught in Farsi and in the afternoons, instruction was switched to English. We were taught English by our Farsi-speaking teachers and with that knowledge at age ten I spent two months during the summer holidays at Stoke Brunswick School in East Grinstead, England. It was sort of a summer camp for non-English speakers. I was lucky to befriend an English girl, Fiona Campbell, whose mother Mrs. Campbell was the housemistress for the girls’ dormitory at the School. Fiona really helped me with my conversational English and in a matter of days I had acquired the perfect British accent.

All others attending the School were mainly from various parts of Europe: Germany, Italy, Yugoslavia, Greece, Holland, Spain, Portugal and varied in age from 13 to 19. At ten, I was the youngest and not wanting to be left out, I immediately told everyone that I was 13. Fortunately, my command of the English language, which was stronger than my European counterparts, helped give me the confidence I needed to support the additional three years I’d sneakily tagged onto myself. I was so comfortable in conversing in English that my teacher, an Oxford University student who was working over the summer by teaching English to a group of privileged children, wrote a letter to my parents praising me as a “marvelous chatterbox.” Fact was that I was the only one who bothered to make an effort and would engage him in conversation on topics as pedantic as pop music, current cinema, to more sophisticated discourse on history, politics, and God while the others stared sleepily ahead waiting for the morning sessions to end before the start of the afternoon fun.

On returning to Tehran, I was so pleased with my short stint at the English summer school that I urged my parents to ship me back to England to continue my studies. My wish came true within weeks after receiving news of the sudden closing of Bonyade-Nov. Soon after, I was back on board a plane with my mother heading to London and settled at Charters Towers School, a private international boarding school in Bexhill-on-Sea, Sussex, where I spent the next 5 years completing my secondary education and preparing for the GCE O’levels, one of which was in English Language and Literature. From Charters Towers, it was only natural that I continued heading west, across the Atlantic, to the U.S., to complete my university education. After all, it was George Bernard Shaw who said: “England and America are two countries separated by a common language.” Though, Oscar Wilde would have disagreed having said: “We have really everything in common with America nowadays except of course, language.”

Today, non-native English speakers need not travel to English speaking countries in pursuit of studies taught in the English language. Many universities around the world, where English is not the official tongue, have begun to offer English as a medium of instruction in order to attract international students and even prepare their native students for the global economy.

Below are examples of 4 countries which have embraced English as the medium of instruction or regard it as the primary language of learning after the native mother tongue:


1. South Korea: English with an American Accent


In South Korea, learning English and speaking with an American accent are akin to a national obsession. Though South Korea allows only citizens from select countries such as Canada, the US, the UK, New Zealand, Australia, South Africa and Ireland to work as ESL instructors in the country’s public school, preference is to hire instructors from North America. Some teachers even fake an American accent to secure the teaching job. For more on this topic, click on this link to PRI:

2. Germany: Popular Destination


More and more U.S. students are looking at Germany as a destination to pursue their higher education while less German students are seeking university studies in the U.S. By teaching university subjects in English, a report issued by the Institute of International Education, shows the number of US students coming to Germany in 2014 rose by 9% compared to the previous year, peaking at 10,377. The attractiveness of attending a German university has much to do with the rising cost of higher education in the U.S. and cost of living but the idea of studying in Europe is also a key factor. For more on this topic, click here:

3. Indonesia: Mandatory English


The Indonesian government will make bilingual curriculum mandatory at universities effective at the start of 2016.  The government sees it necessary that students must learn interact in English in order to prepare them to compete in the ASEAN Economic Community. For more on this topic, click here:

4. The Netherlands: Bad English


In an effort to attract international students and prepare Dutch students for an international career, Dutch universities and colleges have been introducing English as medium of instruction for their degree courses, but there have been some pitfalls. According to research by students’ union LSVB, almost 60% of students polled said the lectures at Dutch universities and HBO colleges which were given in English were so bad that they were incomprhensible and impeded their learning. For more on this, click here:

No matter what we think or wish, English (besides soccer) continues to be the language that serves as the common denominator amongst most people from around the world. The learning of the English language or using English as the medium of instruction is rapidly growing in demand around the world. English is here to stay, at least for the long run.

For a little fun on the English language, check out the video clip of Eddie Izzard, the British comedian in this link from PRI’s The World:

Share with us your experiences, if any, of studying English abroad.

Jasmin Saidi-Kuehnert is the President and CEO of the Academic Credentials Evaluation Institute (ACEI).

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The Academic Credentials Evaluation Institute, Inc. (ACEI), was founded in 1994 and is based in Los Angeles, CA, USA. ACEI provides a number of services that include evaluations of international academic credentials for U.S. educational equivalence, translation, verification, and professional training programs. ACEI is a Charter and Endorsed Member of the Association of International Credential Evaluators. For more information, visit

1 Comment

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One response to “Mad About English: A look at 4 Countries and their Use of the English Language

  1. Peter Ives

    What do you mean by English “serves as THE common denominator for most people around the world”? emphasis added. While the trend your post gives examples of is clear and drastic, it does not lead to this conclusion at all. A majority of people around the world do not speak English. Many other languages serve as ‘common’ lingua franca. Many media examples as well as some hasty academics make statements like yours, but I fear it is very misleading. Even in Europe where English is more dominant, much research has questioned Eurobarometer’s estimates of English proficiency. But you raise many other interesting examples. Thanks for writing the article.

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