English has been a global language for over a century now, and it’s widely regarded as the universal language for business. How long this will last remains to be seen though, as China continues to grow, and developing regions like Africa and South America reinforce the presence of shared languages across their continents.
One thing is for sure: the need for a single corporate language is more apparent than ever, as markets continue their global expansion. And English is holding up pretty well as the language of choice for business ventures taking their services overseas – but for how long?
The rise of English as the global business language
Global business has been revolutionised by the internet and expanding trade agreements over the last decade or so. Suddenly, the need for firms to have a language strategy has become more widespread and English has become the language of choice for many.
Why Everyone at Your Company Should Speak (a Little) English, Harvard Business Review.
But English isn’t the only contender for a global language, of course. Mandarin is often spoken about as a potential rival, while Spanish and French are widely spoken across huge sections of the world. So what makes English so appealing?
The need for a single, common language
First of all, it makes perfect sense to adopt a single language for everyone to use in a business environment. This does nothing to devalue the benefits of learning other languages, but it’s important that people around the world can communicate in a language that gives everyone a voice.
English has become such a strong candidate because it’s so widely spoken around the world, at least to some level. Mandarin, on the other hand, is highly focused to China, Singapore and Hong Kong – and even then English is a national language in two out of three (Singapore and Hong Kong).
How long will English be the language of choice?
At this stage it’s hard to see a replacement for English as the global choice any time soon. People around the world have widely adopted it as their language of choice for business, and switching now would be difficult.
Chinese Mandarin, which is often considered as a global language for the future, is yet to even conquer the Asian continent, where English remains the business language between international boardrooms. Even its strongest market, Southeast Asia, still relies on English for multilingual communication, due to the rich linguistic diversity across its nations.
Another stumbling block for Mandarin is that English remains quite approachable to language learners around the world. Central European languages are among the closest related to English – including Spanish and French, which cover a large majority of the globe between them.
Caption: Languages considered closely related to English, according to the Foreign Service Institute (FSI). Shot taken from Effectivelanguagelearning.com.
However, English can be a tougher prospect for people in Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Asia, where languages become more distant in nature. But when English is the native tongue of trading giants like the US and the most accessible foreign language to members of the EU, the African Union – as well as South and Central America – it remains the logical choice for firms that need a truly global reach.