Though English might have automatically become the international language, it would not necessarily be the best answer to the question -- What sort of language does its work with the least waste? It would certainly be a wastage of time to make a language international if it was nothing more than the chance outcome of completion for trade and other side-lines of history, or a form of Esperanto based on word-roots with a wide distribution in a number of European languages.
The theory of language is a very complex business. It is dependent on new sciences which have only come into existence in the last hundred years. Thoughts, words, and things are hard enough to keep separate; and all of them have a tendency to get mixed up with feelings. Five years may be a short time in which to come to a decision about what is what is such a field, but in 1923, when The Meaning of Meaning was complete, it was possible to go back to the special field of Grammar with some new light on the ways in which words do their work, and from that time to 1927 Basic was in the making. Early in 1928 it became clear that 850 English words, put into operation by the Basic system, would give us something which was supported by science while offering to teachers and businessmen what they had been looking for.
The system was first made public by limited distribution, so that the reaction of the best brains might be tested for two or three years, with a view to forming a group of workers in certain key countries. But interest was everywhere so great that letters and requests for further details kept coming in hundreds and a wider organization became necessary. With the help of English friends and the Payne Fund of New York, the necessary material was got ready in a number of languages and in 1933 a serious start was made in the Far East with a program supported by the Rockefeller Foundation.
Now, after less than seven years, Basic has its representatives in more than twenty countries, and interest is everywhere increasing. By the end of 1939 more than 100 books in and about Basic were in print and the year 1940 will be marked by the addition of more reading material for Schools and by a great increase in the output of Science.
Special attention has been given to the needs of the education authorities in China, where the Orthological Institute (Peking), under the direction of Professor R. D. Jameson of Tsing Hua University and Dr. I. A. Richards of Magdalene College, Cambridge, was working (till 1938) on the organization of material for the Middle Schools. They had the help of a Chinese Committee, and were profiting by the developments in radio, which is now coming to the front in all countries of the East. The parallel program in Japan will be complete before the end of 1941 when the Japanese-Basic Dictionary, on which Mr. F. J. Daniels has been at work for five years, will be printed for the use of teachers. The place of Professor Okakura, our representative from 1932 till his death in 1936, has been taken by Mr. T. Takata, who was responsible for the Japanese form of The ABC of Basic English, and A New Guide to Basic English for Middle Schools.
In countries such as Japan, where the value of English for international purposes is very great, not only in trading with America, Australia, India, and Europe, but for science, invention, and general thought, language teaching has generally been started on the wrong lines. In addition, Japan has been guided in the past twenty years chiefly b English teachers of the old school who had no knowledge of Psychology. Even when Basic came to their attention through the work of Mr. Rossiter in Etajima (1929-1932), their attempts at copying it were limited to making word-lists designed for story-writing. List of this sort, based on the old ideas of memory-work, get the learner nowhere, and it will not be surprising if a form of English needing so much time and giving so little power of saying anything clearly is taken out of the schools in the near future.
This might give Basic its chance, and certainly more would be done in one year by a private learner than has so far been possible in three or even five years in the present schools. Between 2,000,000 and 3,000,000 Japanese now have enough knowledge of English to make a new start with Basic as a guide, and it would be sad for teachers who have been working so hard to be put out of business for no better reason than that errors have been made by others. But if Basic was now given a test in the last year before the Middle School, the cause of the present troubles would quickly be made clear.
A first need in all countries where English has been started on the old lines is the training of a body of teachers who will be able to get the best out of the new system. That is what Dr. Purcell was doing for two years in Singapore. Even without such training, "The Basic Way" in language learning may be used with profit, but when the reasons for a change are made clear, the process of adjustment goes more smoothly--and a month or two will be quite enough for anyone who makes the comparison with an open mind.
An important chance of training teachers was given early in 1938, when the Council of National Education in Burma came to the decision to take up Basic in the 47 places of education under its control. The organization was put into the hands of Mr. Adolph Myers, who, working with The Times of India in Bombay has been building up a great future for Basic for the 300,000,000 living south of the Himalayas. Among others who are supporting Basic in India is Mr. Jawaharial Nehru, President of the All-India Congress.
For some learners in the East the sounds of a European language are hard. In India, Burma, and the Near East a natural rhythm comes readily if attention is given to the Basic rules. This is equally true of Russian, and our representative in Moscow, Mrs. Litvinoff, whose Basic school books have now been in use for three years, has herself been surprised by the record time in which learners get control of the system in the U.S.S.R.
The first Basic group in Moscow was that in the Institute of Legal Psychiatry in 1933. A short time after others were formed in the Radio Committee, in one of the Military Academies, the Stalin Industrial Academy, the Stanko-Instrument Institute, and the Cinema Institute. In 1935, after a meeting in the Leningrad House of Science, teachers' circles were started, and the Arctic Institute became interested. At the same time, helpers were trained in the Foreign Language Combinat, from which the Red Army gets most of its teachers. In 1937, Mrs. Litvinoff was in the Urals, teaching in Sverdlovsk; so the work is no longer limited to the West.
In Australia, the Modern Language Association of New south Wales now has a Basic English division. The first meeting took place in February 1936, with a talk by Senator the Hon. Macartney Abbott on "The Need for an International Thought Exchange." In 1935-6 there were discussions of Basic in the Federal Parliament. Senator Arkins has kept th4 question before the public and Professor Sir C. Stanton Hicks of Adelaide University has been interesting himself in the use of Basic for the purposes of science. At the same time, Mr. H. Walpole of Queens University, Ontario, was able to put Basic on the map in Canada before joining forces with Miss Charlotte Tyler at the office of the Institute in New York.
In 1932-3 Basic was headlined in the news in America, and has now come again to the front through the use made of it in Boston, Mass., for the teaching of those whose knowledge of English is still less than normal, Miss Mary Guyton, an expert on Adult Education in Boston, Mass., came over to London in 1935 to make detailed notes on the step-by-step material then being printed. In 1936-9 talks in basic were given on the Boston short wave radio (WIXAL); and an Orthological Committee is now working on the further needs of radio and school teachers at 9, Kirkland Place, Cambridge, Mass.
In Europe, the organization of Basic is going forward quickly wherever the fear, or hope, of war has not put education in the hands of the military. Events in Spain have made Buenos Aires and Monte Video seem more important than Madrid or Barcelona, where the schools so well started by Mr. Calvert and Mr. Teague were needed for machine guns. When Geneva came under a cloud, Dr. Vocadlo made himself responsible for a Danubian Centre in Prague; Dr. Otto Neurath undertook the designing of pictures for Basic school books at the Mundaneum Institute in The Hague; and new support was given to the system in Athens, where between 4000 and 5000 are now learning English through Basic at the Institute of English Studies.
The first European country to make Basic a part of its education system was Denmark, where a Copenhagen night school went on the air from the Kalundborg station in 1932 after only 50 hours work. A start was made in the day schools in 1934, and in the first stage there were more than 40 of these with about 2,000 Basic learners. With the help of Mr. August Lerche, through whose Huad er Basic Engelsk? The system came to the attention of the authorities our representative, Mrs. Kamma Taylor, has been getting together the material necessary to give the teachers a good chance; and in 1938-9 no less than 85 out of 105 taking English in Copenhagen were making use of her books.
So much for the twelve years which have gone to make Basic a living force in education and a new hope in international relations. They have been years of spadework, and those who have taken part in the planting and watering now may get comfort from watching the growth of new seed in fertile fields.