The dominant nature of English as the world’s global trade language is certainly convenient for Americans, as well as citizens of other English-speaking countries. But the fact that it remains the global language of commerce creates controversy in certain circles.
Which Languages Could Replace English?
French used to be the preferred language of international exchange, as it was the language of the educated. But now, people the world over speak English in the worlds of business, academia, travel, and diplomacy. Native English speakers stand to benefit the most from this situation, but is it really equitable to the global community at large?
There are many who consider the widespread use of the English language to be a purposeful advancement of the political agenda of the English-speaking world. And as China becomes a stronger and stronger economic player, the Chinese government has been pushing for Mandarin to be the preferred language of business.
Mandarin is the language spoken by the most people the world over, with Spanish being the second most widely spoken language. English is third, but it takes more than raw numbers to make a lingua franca. Many Spanish and Mandarin speakers are relegated to communities that wield little to no global power, so there’s less motivation for non-native speakers to learn those languages. English, however, is the language of much popular music, the language of Hollywood, and the language of business worldwide.
According to professionals, it looks like English is here to stay. The British Council reported that, by 2020, 2 billion people will be studying English, because they deem it “a basic skill needed for the entire workforce, in the same way that literacy has been transformed in the last two centuries from an elite privilege into a basic requirement for informed citizenship.”
But although English is staying strong, that doesn’t mean that there hasn’t been a shift in the landscape. The ability to speak another language is becoming more and more vital. The National Journal reports that, while only 10% of native-born Americans can speak a second language, 56% of European Union citizens can.
Do Businesses Need to Market to Non-English-Speaking Populations?
Whether or not English should remain the international language of business, it seems as though it will, at least for the time being.
With that being said, any business that wants to reach non-English-speaking populations should translate their marketing materials and brand messaging into the language of their target audiences.
Although the majority of online content has historically been written by, and for, English-speaking populations, marketers are starting to realize that localizing their content for different cultures can allow their business to gain a deeper connection with consumers around the globe.