SURPRISING things continue to happen in Chile. Last week the country's Supreme Court decided that the 90-year-old General Pinochet is fit enough to stand trial on charges of murder and torture committed during the military regime he ran for almost thirty years. Now comes the news that the Chilean government is launching a campaign to make its 15 million citizens fluent in the English language. Under a programme called English Opens Doors, schools throughout the country will intensify their teaching of English and companies will be offered tax incentives for encouraging their employees to master the second language. The ambitious aim is to make Chile a bi-lingual country within twenty years.
This move is of more than academic interest since Spanish is already the world's third most widely used language, spoken by more than 400 million people, after English and Mandarin Chinese. It might therefore have been thought that the Spanish-speaking Chileans would be content with their own language, particularly since it is rapidly gaining ground in the United States where they might most want to flaunt their newly-acquired English; America is not yet officially a bi-lingual country but Spanish is to be found in use in all walks of life and it it may achieve official status within the next fifty years. But the reality is that English will open doors throughout the whole world in a way that no other language is ever likely to do. This has happened mainly because of the dominance of American power and culture but it is something from which Britain benefits enormously. The loser is the French language which is in steep decline both in its traditional diplomatic role and in the world's everyday lingual intercourse.
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