Why English May Not Be the Future Language for Business

— November 18, 2016

English is not only a global language, it’s the global language. It’s an official language of the UN, EU, and NATO and is spoken by around 1.5 billion people around the world. That’s even more impressive given that fewer than 400 million speak English as a first language.


However, the glory days of the English language may be behind us; at least for business. The British EU referendum result, the increasing reach of Mandarin and the growing popularity of other languages such as Spanish and French all represent a threat to the ubiquity of the English language.


English is on top, for now


The English language is seen as a hugely valuable asset all over the world. In fact, the British Council predict that by 2020 over 2 billion people will be studying English. Even in China, a country whose economy and global standing has risen exponentially over the last few decades, more people are learning English than in any other nation.


According to Forbes, although English isn’t used locally in many countries, it’s seen as the most beneficial language for international companies. For those working in international industries, such as travel and tourism, it is likely that they will speak English.


English is also the most used language online, just ahead of Mandarin. However, the dominance of English online has declined dramatically over the last few decades from 80% in the 90s to as low as 45% by the mid-2000s. Translation experts London Translations say this trend might be proof that businesses need to become multilingual to communicate internationally. They state that “English may be evolving in a business context, but as more and more business is conducted online, it would seem that English may not become the internet’s universal business language.”


The Chinese Economy


China is the world’s largest market, and home to 1.3 billion people. Although there are over 50 dialects in China, Mandarin is by far the most commonly spoken. The Beijing-based government are really pushing Mandarin, even in traditionally Cantonese speaking areas such as Hong Kong and Macau.


The language is already becoming more and more commonplace in other Asian countries. Lee Han Shih, who runs a multimedia company in Singapore, told the BBC, “The decline of the English language probably follows the decline of the US dollar. If the renminbi is becoming the next reserve currency then you have to learn Chinese.”


According to the British Council, UK-based businesses are becoming increasingly reliant on Mandarin. 28% of companies said the language was useful to their organisation, as the number of Mandarin speakers worldwide continues to grow, this trend will only increase.


Brexit


The fallout from Brexit has filled its fair share of Newspaper columns. Brexit even raised panic over the validity of the English language in Europe when it was suggested, albeit by a French politician, that English should no longer be used at the EU, and replaced instead by German or French. The EU has a population of 300 million and is collectively one of the biggest economies in the world, and a huge trading partner to the UK, USA and China.


Without the UK in the EU, Ireland and Malta will be the only EU nations where English is an official language, and the two island nations make up less than 1% of the EU’s population. This means that British businesses that want to remain active on the continent may need to translate content into German or French in the future.


Spanish is growing in popularity in education


Spanish has the second highest number of first language speakers in the world, second only to Mandarin. Not only is it spoken in Spain, it is also spoken widely in the growing markets of South and Central America.


While learning French and German in schools is declining, Spanish is becoming increasingly popular in British schools. Pupils learning Spanish at GCSE level increased from 29,000 to 85,000 between 1995 and 2015.


Is this in indicator of things to come? Jesús Juan Ciro Martín Sanz, president of Plataforma del Español, a network of Spanish-speaking businesses, certainly thinks so: “The axis of communication and, therefore, culture has shifted from the Atlantic to the Pacific where most of the world’s population is concentrated. The 21st Century is the era of the Pacific, that’s why the Spanish language should have a more prominent presence in the region.”


The future is multilingual


Although Spanish, German and French will grow in importance as the number of native speakers increases in the next few decades, it is hard to suggest that English will be any less valuable. The English language is not the future language of business, but it is a future language of business.


It’s hard to imagine any one language being completely dominant. Instead businesses will need to become increasingly multilingual.

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Author: Simon Davies


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