The British Council is associated with the British government and was formed by Royal Charter of the British government in 1941. It teaches English and promotes British foreign policy overseas. Its aims are the following:

The Council's aim is to create in a country overseas a basis of friendly knowledge and understanding of the people of this country, of their philosophy and way of life, which will lead to a sympathetic appreciation of British foreign policy, whatever for the moment that policy may be and from whatever political conviction it may spring.

National interpretation, a happier phrase than cultural propaganda, implies the employment by the state to the national advantage of the whole cultural resources of the nation. he term 'cultural resources' may be deemed to include all achievements of the nation past and present in the spheres of intellect, art, science, government, education, and invention, and that intangible but powerful force, the national personality, as manifested in a country's past history and present way of life. (from Annual Report 1940-1941:15-16)

The British Council has schools in many countries such as Japan, South Korea and Taiwan, although many have closed in the last several years. One would think that being a direct soft power institution of the British government itself, that the school would take good care of its teachers; however, in Japan the British Council has been unwilling to respect the rule of law, and thus a labor union has formed to protect the labor rights of teachers there.

In May 1959, the USIA, the Center for Applied Linguistics and the British Council held the "Teaching English Overseas" conference in Washington, DC where the details of American and British programs was discussed. Arising from the meeting was a "consensus among delegates that they were in the business of fighting communism." (pg 164, Linguistic Imperialism)

The 1961 Makere Conference in Makere, Uganda was also attended by the British Council where major policy was created that would influence how English was taught overseas until the present day. Such policy included:

  • the ideal teacher of English is a native speaker
  • teaching English monolingually
  • the earlier English is taught, the better

Whereas the British government has typically used government agencies such as the British council to promote in its foreign policy promotion,in contrast the American government favors using third party institutions for promotion of its foreign policy. Therefore, there is no exact American government counterpart to the British Council; however, private American universities with professors bound to promote American hegemony are established overseas to play a similar role (e.g., American University Cairo, American University Beirut, American University Dubai, etc...).

Counterparts to the British Council from other countries are Alliance Francaise (France), Goethe Institute (Germany) and the Confucius Institute (China).

For more on the British Council see Phillipson's Linguistic Imperialism.

More Notes from

The British Council "is the UK's public diplomacy and cultural organisation." They note that: "We work in 100 countries, in arts, education, governance, and science." [1]

"The British Council was founded as an organ of international propaganda. During the late 1920s an influential group of civil servants became convinced that ‘British’ values of parliamentary democracy could be subsumed by the rising tide of fascism. Their response was the British Committee for Relations with Other Countries, which became the British Council. Particular Council initiatives included the teaching of English, but political messages always came along with the language tuition... "During the Cold War the British Council maintained its propaganda value and developed an important double function. It provided a point of contact with western ideas in the non-aligned world and, when thaws permitted, the Eastern Bloc. More than this, the British Council provided a view of the West distinct from that presented by the United States and its equivalent operation: the United States Information Agency; building a sense of the diversity of western culture. "There can be little doubt that the British Council facilitated the post-war emergence of English as an international language, or that its activities have aided the wider objectives of British foreign policy. The Council helped to ensure a cultural place for Britain in the modern world beyond that justified by its economic or political power: it has been a central organ of what the American scholar Joseph Nye Jr. has called ‘soft power.’ This said, however the Council has seldom attracted adequate resources or respect from policy makers, beside the occasional nod towards the Council being ‘good for trade’." [2] Counterpoint "is the cultural relations think-tank of the British Council."


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