As the internet drives more businesses into the global marketplace, it’s becoming increasingly important to be able to communicate your company’s message in as many of your market’s languages as possible. Nearly two thirds of the world’s population primarily speak one of only twelve languages, with the top three being Chinese, Hindi-Urdu and English.
Over the next few months, London Translations will be posting a regular series of blogs, in which we’ll highlight the pros and cons to learning some of the world’s most popular business languages.
The evolution and decline of English for business
English is spoken by a quarter of people across the globe, and it makes sense that businesses regularly implement English-only language policies for their worldwide operations. However, the way businesses are using English has been changing in itself; less formal and more conversational, the emphasis seems to be shifting from an overly professional tone to something more natural to those writing and reading it.
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. Studies have shown that it has fallen in popularity on the internet, and while 80% of online content was in English two decades ago, it dropped to 45% by the mid-00’s. Similarly, global businesses are also beginning to call more strongly for English-speaking countries to broaden their linguistic horizons, due to the comparatively broad range of dialects used around the world.
What should we speak now?
That’s the million-dollar question. Languages which we traditionally learn in school – French, German, Spanish and Italian – are spoken around the world. Switzerland’s ambassador to Ireland recently noted that the polylingual nature of her home country contributed roughly 10% of the country’s national economy in 2014. Arguably, this kind of multilingualism gets results.
But what of non-European languages, or those which aren’t written in the modern English alphabet, such as Mandarin or Arabic? President Obama recognised the importance of the former when he announced the 1 Million Strong initiative last September, planning a 500% increase in young American students learning Mandarin by 2020.
Likewise, the last estimate from 2015’s Ethnologue, the definitive worldwide linguistics guide, suggests that 490 million people speak Arabic as their primary or secondary language. Yet, it remains a neglected business language, even in areas where knowledge of Arabic could genuinely be a matter of life and death.
The future language of business
Ultimately, expanding your company’s global reach can only be a good thing if done well but how do you decide which language to adopt alongside English? There may not be a definitive answer to what the one future language of business will be, but we can almost guarantee that we can help you speak it. See you next month.