Who declared English as a global language
Why learning English is still a must
In our globalized world, it is difficult to escape the dominance of the English language. Although there are an estimated 360 million native speakers, a total of 1.6 billion people speak English as a first, second or third language. Over the centuries, English became the “bridging language” that developed through cross-border trade, diplomacy and culture.
And while the numerical advantage lies in Chinese and Spanish - two of the most widely spoken languages in the world in terms of the number of native speakers - there is little evidence that they can compete with English as a global "lingua franca".
But with one in four students already speaking English at a “conversational” level, is learning that language really still as good an investment as it has been in the past? And assuming a predictable increase in good machine translation, will the ability to express yourself in English lose value in the future?
THE ROOTS OF DOMINANCE
While speculation about the global status of the English language continues, and its possible decline remains a possibility, many linguists believe that these assumptions are being exaggerated. As David Graddol in "The Future of English?" noted, there is no reason to believe that any other language will become the global lingua franca within the next 50 years.
English is unlikely to replace any of the other languages, but its usefulness as a common language in commerce, diplomacy, and pop culture will remain. The English dominance is based on history: centuries of colonization, industrialization and globalization have allowed the language to spread all over the world. The linguist David Crystal estimates that 60-70 “Englishes” have developed because of this since the 1960s.
But the roots are also in practicality: over the centuries, English has slowly but steadily become our global linguistic currency: a common language that, quite literally, has oiled the wheels of an increasingly interconnected world.
While it would be difficult to replace an established and deeply rooted language on a global scale - if not entirely impossible - another language could not, perhaps encouraged by the unease some feel at the linguistic and cultural dominance of the English-speaking world, take the place?
ENGLISH THAT STUNNED? UNLIKELY.
Although Mandarin Chinese is seen as the standard antagonist of English (with almost a billion native speakers), it is an impractical competitor, and for several reasons: The complex sounds and difficult writing system make learning Mandarin Chinese notoriously difficult.
In addition, Mandarin Chinese is not supported by a machinery of globally available and popular pop culture, which is driving the spread of the English language among young people in particular. Even in East Asia, the connection between Mandarin and the political actions of the Chinese state has, at least to some extent and at certain times, prevented its further spread.
In fact, English is seen as “more neutral” in what might be thought to be dominated by Chinese, as evidenced by the fact that ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) has adopted English as a working language.
And what about the Spanish? The language has more than 400 million native speakers and also an extensive cultural and pop cultural influence in the world. Compared to Chinese, it is also relatively easy to learn. And while the number of Spanish students will increase, it is unlikely that it will challenge the dominance of the English language.
Because in addition to the anchoring of English in trade through to pop culture, dominance is not only associated with practicality and historically justifiable, but can also be traced back to a perceived dominance: As long as people continue to believe in the importance of English and learn the language, it will Do not swing the pendulum in the direction of Spanish or any other language that is important in any way.
ENGLISH IS A BUSINESS
The importance of English as a global lingua franca is particularly noticeable in the international business environment. Even in those areas where multilingualism is highly valued and diversity is the buzzword - diplomacy and education, for example - English is dominant.
Communicating effectively across borders and offices is essential in today's geographically and culturally diverse workplaces. Harvard Business School Professor Tsedal Neeley believes that bilingualism is the answer. “Companies need a language strategy, especially if they want to interact in some way globally,” she explains.
The benefits of using a lingua franca in a business environment are numerous: The seamless, cross-border communication to accommodate international customers makes English, as Ms. Neeley observes, "... now a global business language." There's no need to reinvent the wheel, linguistically speaking. And most companies make no move to say goodbye to English, even if they need other languages to sell their products locally or to introduce them to the market.
Managers who are fluent in English are sought after as they are seen as better prepared to lead global projects, businesses, and multinational teams. This in turn leads to a cycle of positive feedback, which further solidifies the importance of English for people who want to work and act across borders.
A MULTI-LAYERED ONLINE LANDSCAPE
The online environment also remains in English. But even though English is the founding language of the World Wide Web and it really dominated the early days, nowadays “only” 40 percent of the online content is in English and less than 30 percent of the users are native speakers. As millions of people add content to the Internet, the linguistic structure continues to change: the popularity of social media in China is just one example of the displacement of English.
Content writers choose the language in which they write based on intended audience and influence: in order to reach and connect with a wide range of Internet users, English remains the obvious choice. English cannot be escaped in a broader sense either: seemingly trivial word creations such as “selfie”, “hashtag” or even “internet” are often not translated into other languages, which allows English expressions to permeate other languages in an unprecedented way.
A SELF-FILLING PROPHECY?
The factual importance of the English language in a global world based on international trade and borderless communication is a reality - but nevertheless it is to a certain extent the perceived importance of English that keeps the machinery running: Because who would the current state of affairs preventing his children from learning English? In fact, the sheer number of students - currently more than a billion - is what keeps the dominance of English alive, generation after generation.
According to Eurostat, 94 percent of high school graduates learn English. English is considered an obvious second language in Scandinavia, where early education, small classes, comprehensive techniques and recognizing language learning as a necessity to compete globally have resulted in high language levels. In Malaysia, some parents even go so far as to send their children to a school in Singapore, where English is the main language.
In Vietnam - where there is an emotional, automatic rejection of Mandarin - people like to make friends with English as opposed to the language of their neighboring country. In China itself, children learn English from kindergarten and more and more Chinese are studying English in another country.
WHY FLUID LANGUAGE CONTROL IS IMPORTANT
Learning other languages remains as important as ever, but in order to participate in what we share across borders - from commerce to pop culture - English remains a must: The language is a global linguistic currency that gives the speaker a world opened beyond his home country. In a world where more and more people speak English, fluency, as opposed to necessary, therefore makes the real difference.
Mastering English on a native or almost native level, characterized by understanding nuances, idioms and even local slang, will become a hallmark of those who travel, study and work across borders and always feel at home in them feeling changing world.
WHY MACHINES WILL NOT TAKE THE POWER TOO
But maybe all this doesn't matter when machines get the upper hand and translate everything from text messages to Skype calls flawlessly and in real time? With projects such as Google's “Neural Machine”, a recent addition to Google Translate, engineers are trying to fix the translation tool's tendency to mis-translate, ultimately reducing the human ability to make sense of a sentence in a context, not just a collection of words to look at, to reach.
While this new tool is expected to be more accurate than Google Translate, it will continue to struggle with the actual, disorganized process of making sense of a spoken language. In fact, an extremely correct Google translation engine could be helpful in the future to give meaning to more mundane or more technical texts that lack the human nuance. But grasping the full range of meanings of a language will remain human prerogative for the time being.
In international trade, diplomacy, and culture, nuance and context are often critical - and getting it right can mean the difference between success and failure. Therefore, fluency in English is likely to remain a valuable skill in the future.
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