IDEOLOGIES OF ENGLISH AS A LANGUAGE FOR ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT IN BANGLADESH: Critical insights from two research projects in Bangladesh


With the salience of English in the age of globalisation, there is a growing belief in many developing country contexts that learning English can improve peoples socioeconomic circumstances and can give them the chances to which they did not previously have access — what Erling and Seargeant (2013, p. 8) have called 'ideologies of English as a language for economic development'. Such ideologies often mean that it is the perceived value of English, rather than the actual value, that drives the desire of an individual or a communit)' to learn English. This is, in part, because the relationship between English and development is difficult to measure. However, Rassool (2007) also mentions the role of the media in reinforcing the strong ideological connection between English and upwardly mobile aspirations in postcolonial developing societies:

Since languages serve to mediate versions of reality grounded in their associated cultures, excolonial languages, and especially English, through the mass media continue to be instrumental in shaping the aspirations, dreams and desires of large numbers of people living in discrete polities.

(Rassool, 2007, p. 250)

Owing to the historical presence of English in Bangladesh as well as its continued growth as a global language, there is a strong ideological relationship between English and economic development in Bangladesh (Hamid & Erling, 2016; Seargeant. Erling, Solly, Chowdhury, & Rahman, 2017). Ideologies of English and development can be perceived at both a local and national level, as can be seen in projects in Bangladesh such as 'English in Action’ (EIA), which promote the idea that an important role of ELT in Bangladesh is to support the economic development of the country (Erling, 2017b).

In this chapter, we present critical insights into the local and national ideologies of English as a language of development in Bangladesh gained from our involvement in two research projects in Bangladesh. In the first project, undertaken in 2010, we attempted to develop a systematic understanding of local ideologies of English and development, and how they might be influencing demands for English language teaching (ELT) in the country. In that study, we found among the participants strong ideologies of English as a language necessary for working abroad and for increasing economic gain. Because of this presence of ideology linking English and gainful economic migration, and also pleas for further research into the role of English in migration (Coleman, 2010), we conducted a research study in 2013 where we investigated the perceived value of English for Bangladeshi economic migrant workers to the Middle East.

Our findings from the first study showed that the local ideologies of English as a language of economic development are strong. Such prominent ideologies appeared to be substantially grounded on the belief that English lubricates economic advancement, particularly at a level when, for instance, individuals choose to work abroad. Moreover, the language is believed to augment accessibility to information in accomplishing certain local socioeconomic activities by exercising greater freedom. Upon further exploration of the aspired link between English and economic migration, we found in a study on a group of returnee Bangladeshi migrant workers to the Middle East that structural forces and global inequality considerably intervene against establishing any straightforward link between English and gainful economic migration. We also found that education and language skills carry values for the Bangladeshi migrant workers, and those who do not have the desired level of education and/or language skills are more prone to exploitation and hardship. However, our findings showed that even migrant workers who have education and language skills may find this difficult to materialise their economic aspiration because of the structural entanglements of economic migration (Erling, Chowdhury, Solly, & Seargeant, 2019). Moreover, significant physical, social, and psychological costs were noted by all participants (Erling et al., 2019). Combining the findings of the two projects, we argue that opportunities for engaging in (language) education are essential for Bangladeshis as they relate to increasing the capabilities of people to operate with informed control in both the local or global contexts such as international economic migration. However, in expanding opportunities for English language learning, we argue that it is essential to maintain emphasis on the value of national and/or local languages for increasing opportunities for informed participation in local and informal economies and as a foundation for language learning. English can be useful not only for mediating global connection of Bangladesh, including economic migration, but also for dealing with structural challenges and global inequalities through attempting to raise global awareness of those structural inequalities.

We start this chapter by providing our personal reflections on and experiences of English and development. We then introduce the theoretical framework and methodologies used in the two studies. Finally, we discuss the findings of the two projects, drawing conclusions on English and development in Bangladesh.

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