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BRITISH COUNCIL, The, short forms the Council, the BC. An autonomous, non-political organization set up in the UK in 1934 to counter Fascist propaganda in Europe by promoting a wider knowledge of Britain and the English language, and developing cultural relations with other countries. It was incorporated by Royal Charter in 1940 and is run from London by a director general and a board with 17 advisory committees. Its first overseas offices were in Europe, Latin America, and West Asia; since the 1950s it has been involved with educational work in Commonwealth and other countries. In the 1980s, the Council merged with the Inter-University Council, a body that set up links between British and overseas universities. In matters of language scholarship and teaching, it is advised by an English Teaching Advisory Committee. In 1990, it had offices in 84 countries with 54 teaching centres in 35 countries. It organizes a wide range of educational, technical, and cultural activities, and Council Directors work closely with but separately from British embassies and high commissions.

The BC and ELT

During the 1960s, the Council through its advisory committee was instrumental in setting up the first departments of applied linguistics in British universities, to train, among others, those working overseas on Council and government contracts. Council-supported scholars remain a major source of students of applied linguistics and TEFL. The BC was the original publisher of English Language Teaching (now English Language Teaching Journal), Language Teaching Abstracts (now Language Teaching), and ELT Documents. Its management of the government-funded Aid to Commonwealth English (ACE) (1962–76) and Key English Language Teaching (KELT) (1977–89) schemes, now superseded, led to involvement in teacher education, curriculum development, and particularly English for Special Purposes. More recently, attention has turned to the promotion of British public and private-sector services, and a Promotion Unit with its own representative steering group was set up in 1989.

The BC and British English

In 1985, the then director general Sir John Burgh noted in an interview that the Council does not ‘actively propagate British English as a commodity or as the proper model for foreign users. It so happens that for all sorts of reasons—including, of course, that the very name English suggests to many foreign learners that we in this country speak the “purest”, and, therefore, the best form of the language—British English is often the preferred model … The Council has no tradition or policy of preferring or propagating any one accent over another, and communicates with its many clients in standard written English. It occasionally happens that when recruiting staff for service with an overseas employer the Council will be asked for a speaker of Received Pronunciation or of BBC English’ (English Today, 3, July 1985). In 1989, Sir Richard Francis, director general at that time, said in an interview: ‘Britain's real black gold is not oil, but the English language’ (to William Greaves, The Times, 24 Oct. 1989). He referred to the Council as brokers who assisted the British ELT industry to promote a product around the world, adding that ‘it's difficult to quantify [English] as a national resource. The value, in the post-industrial age, of having people use the language of one's own culture is virtually inestimable…. I often refer to English as a linguistic continent, which isn't confined to the bounds of Africa or America or whatever.’

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