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Bilingualism in a Globalized World

As of now, English is, by all established criteria, still a foreign language in most of the countries of Latin America, but it is spreading like wildfire. This is so even in countries like Cuba which has had a difficult time in its relations with its mighty neighbor, the United States of America.

—Kanavillil Rajagopalan (2010: 175)


In this chapter, I discuss how bilingualism is evidenced in schools and society in a globalized world. Technological advances of the last few decades have enabled great numbers of individuals and communities to come in contact with one another over great distances. Since this contact increasingly involves people communicating and accessing information across national and linguistic borders, the need for bilingualism and bilingual literacy has become greater than before. For bilingualism researchers and language professionals, globalization presents both exciting opportunities and new challenges. In this chapter I discuss some of these opportunities and challenges. We will see that while the forces of globalization have produced a thoroughly interconnected world, the same forces are threatening the existence of local cultures, identities, and languages. We will also see that language is increasingly seen as a commodity, a cultural capital that is required for success in the new world order.

I will then describe the extent of the global spread of English as a lingua franca. No other language in human history has had the level of popularity and widespread usage that English has today. English is by far the most popular second language of choice and is a major driving force behind new occurrences of bilingualism in the world. It is used by more non-native speakers than native speakers, and is at the heart of an interconnected world. We will see what local varieties of English look like and how they interact with other languages with which they come into contact. We will then look at four global flows that have particular significance to our study of bilingualism in the globalized era: (1) transnational migration, (2) popular music, (3) advertising, and (4) the Internet.

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