Saturday, September 21, 2013

Foreign Languages and the British

Pie chart of populations of English native spe...
English native speakers (Wikipedia)
by Livia A Mihai

English is considered the lingua franca of our era.

Although native English speakers are about 5% of the world's population (300-400 million people), English is one of the most spoken languages around the globe and the most published one.

Why? Because there are more than one billion people who speak it, no matter if it's a mother tongue or a second language. One billion is a very impressive figure, isn't it?

Learning a foreign language is just an option

There is a common notion among native English speakers that they don't need to learn another language. This is obviously based on the fact that English is spoken in so many other countries.

They can travel to Sweden, Poland, Romania, Ethiopia, Mexico, Russia or China and have little or no difficulties in getting along with the locals because they all speak English (some of the native English speakers admit that sometimes these foreigners even speak better English than their friends at home). Therefore, learning a foreign language is just an option, not a necessity.

The latest statistics about the number of British pupils that take A-levels in foreign languages support this statement. Not only there has been a dramatic drop in attending German or French classes compared to the mid-90′s, but these figures have fallen to a record low.

Pupils prefer science and maths instead. Therefore, one can say that learning languages is a foreign concept to today's British teenagers.

Are the British at risk of becoming a nation of monolinguals?

The idea that the British could become a nation of monolinguals is a hot topic. An article about this issue, recently published by The Guardian, got more than 1000 comments in just 4 days. Some say it already is. Others argue against this.

However, they agree that knowing more than one language may be more advantageous, but they simply choose not to learn another language when English is enough.

I particularly liked the comparison between English and Latin in this article. Disregarding the time periods, both languages have a relatively small number of native speakers and are spoken as a second language by a huge number of people from other countries.

So the vast majority of the speakers are bilingual. The difference stands in the way people learn the second language: not only the conquered had to learn Latin, but also the conquerors who settled outside the walls of Rome had to learn the local language.

In contrast, people nowadays struggle to learn English, but the native speakers seem not to bother learning any other language.

As English is now a widely spoken international language, English speakers may think they need no other language; this is very much a modern invention, with no precedent in older civilisations.

How does this affect your business?

Considering the impact of using other languages when doing business, here is a quote that says it all:

"If I am selling to you, I speak your language. If I am buying, dann muessen sie Deutsch sprechen" - Willy Brandt.

Decision makers in international company don't have to learn all the languages of the countries they sell their products or services to. They just have to be aware that language is an important tool in closing a deal.

* If I am selling to you, I speak your language. If I am buying, then you must speak German.
Livia Mihai, copywriter at a multinational company providing language services.

I also suggested a solution to this problem - British pupils not taking A-levels in foreign languages. You can find it here:

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