The British are notorious for being incapable of speaking any language other than their own. But, with nearly every nation in the world speaking English, some arguably better than the British nationals, is it a surprise that we’ve become so complacent? With new contenders for global language, it might be time to get learning.
So how did English become such a global language in the first place? There has always been need for global languages, a way of communicating ideas and information to the masses. In the past this was primarily for religion – the Catholic Church still makes use of the same Latin it has done for hundreds of years – but then scientific theories and trade also became drivers for global languages. The King James Bible was a turning point for the English language, generating many colloquial phrases we still use today (‘eye for an eye’, ‘land of nod’, ‘the skin of my teeth’ to name but a few). When the sun never set on the British empire was when the legacy of the English Language really took root, however, and although we are somewhat diminished in power today, the effect is still visible.
Although there are contenders to take the place of English as the global language, it looks pretty set to remain at the forefront for at least a few years yet. While this might be ok for British tourists venturing on holiday, it’s another matter entirely for anyone relocating. Trying to live in a foreign country, particularly if you are away from a major cosmopolitan city, is near impossible to do on English alone. Taking language classes for the local language is not just recommended but necessary, as is using it while you’re in your new location. It’s far too easy for the English to keep speaking English – make some effort, even if you get it wrong.
So, if English is on a downhill for popularity, who are the contenders? Spanish (spoken in North and South America and Europe) and French (spoken in Europe, North America and parts of Africa) are the biggest contenders for the number of geographical locations which already speak the languages. Yet, with the rise of industry, Indian dialects such as Hindi and Urdu, Arabic and, of course, Mandarin Chinese are rising in prevalence.
Mandarin Chinese is the favourite to overtake English as a global language due to the rise of the Chinese economy. In places such as Singapore where English was once one of the main languages spoken, Mandarin classes are significantly rising in popularity. More and more businessmen and women are going to do business in China rather than other centers in Europe. As a result, Mandarin is becoming preferable to other European languages such as German and Spanish. Yet, Manoj Votra, the Asia director of the Economist Intelligence Unit believes the question should not be whether Mandarin will overtake English, but instead whether they will coexist.
Whether English is no longer the global language or has one or more languages join it at the top of the pile, it looks like it’s about time the British population started to become more linguistically adventurous.