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Does English still have ‘legitimacy’ in Europe?

After Britain voted in favour of leaving the European Union, the mayor of the French town of Béziers, Robert Ménard claimed the English language no longer has “legitimacy” in Brussels.

English is one of the 24 official languages and currently one of three ‘dominant’ languages in the EU, the others being German and French. After Britain officially leaves the European Union, Ireland and Malta will be the only two countries where English is an official language. The two island nations account for less than 1% of the EU’s population combined.

Despite assurances from the European Commission that English will remain an official language of the EU, could English be leaving the European Union along with the UK?

English may be losing its foothold in Europe post-Brexit

Because the UK is the only EU member state which registered English as its primary language, there is speculation that Britain’s exit from the EU could very well lead to a removal of its “legal status”. Although Malta and Ireland, which are both still members of the EU, class English as one of their official languages, their ‘primary’ languages are Gaelic and Maltese, rather than English.

English certainly appear to be less popular. Fox News reported that before the UK made any official moves towards leaving the EU, the European Commision “made a symbolic decision to focus on French and German in statements to the press and speeches”.

On the same day as Robert Ménard brought into question the legitimacy of the English language, presidential candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon wrote that English can no longer be “the third working language” of the European Parliament.

According to research conducted by the European Union, English is currently the mother tongue of 13% of the EU’s population, behind German (16%) and ahead of French (12%), although this will reduce significantly once the UK officially leaves.

But English still has a future in the EU

Despite concerns that all this will have negative ramifications for the future of English language, the European Commision has since confirmed that “Brexit poses no danger to the status of Irish or English as an official language of the EU”.

It’s also notable that although the proportion of the EU population who speak English as a first language will decline dramatically, English is still the most widely spoken foreign language on the continent.

Over 38% of the 508 million people living in the EU speak English as a second language, compared to the 12% who speak French and 11% who speak German.

The legitimacy of the English language is lent weight by its global popularity. 79% of Europeans consider English one of the most useful languages for the future of their children.

Furthermore, English is spoken by over 2 billion people worldwide and is hugely valuable to international businesses and organisations. Despite the changing political landscape, this doesn’t seem likely to change anytime soon.

Although it’s likely English will continue to be spoken in Brussels, the demand for both the population at large and businesses specifically to be able to communicate in a foreign language will only become greater. An increasing number of Europeans are multilingual and a staggering 43% say that translation has an important role to play in their everyday lives.

If you’re looking to do business in Europe, or further afield, an accurate translation service is absolutely vital in order to accurately convey your message.

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