The English Language in the World Part II
Our previous blog post discussed how the English language started spreading around the world, reaching a peak with the rise of the British Empire. However, it was not the only language to develop in the colonization era.
So what can explain the unique international status of the English language?
Some suggest that English has become ubiquitous because it is “easy to learn” or especially flexible. However, Latin dominated Europe for over a thousand years despite an extremely complex case system. In truth, people learned Latin then for the same reasons they learn English now: to get access to knowledge. Yet now, while still studied in school (mostly in Europe), one could argue that Latin is still only truly spoken by the academia and the clergy.
Modern English spread around the world from the 17th to mid-20th centuries through the worldwide influence of the British Empire, which brought with it newspapers, books, pop culture, and modern technology like the telegraph, the telephone, the phonograph, radio, and television. And later, British bands ruled the airwaves, with the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and Pink Floyd, to name just a few, all becoming international phenomena.
After the Second World War the economic and cultural supremacy of the US as a global superpower has helped assure the dominant position of the English language and accelerated the spread of the language across the planet. With the US dominating in business, finance, computing, information technology and the Internet, and with the popularity of American music and TV series and Hollywood blockbusters, English has spread to every corner of the globe. Today, American influence makes English crucial globally for the growth of international markets, especially in tourism and advertising, providing access to scientific, technological and academic resources.
With China’s growing economic power, will Mandarin become the preferred language of business? Not so fast! English will at least maintain its dominance, moving from a privilege of the elite to a basic skill needed for the entire workforce. Recent reports show that only 10% of native-born Americans can speak a second language, compared to 56% of European Union citizens. The ability to speak a second (or third) language is clearly important for becoming a global leader. But for the time being, it seems that English may be the most essential language for global business success: even in powerhouse China, more people are currently studying English than in any other country. In fact, a billion people are learning it around the world!
But is this sufficient? Granted, about a third of the planet’s population are exposed to it, but a huge percentage of them understand it quite poorly, and they certainly speak it even worse because it remains a foreign language with its many expressions, accents, prepositions, vocabulary – and cultures.
In today’s world, English has also become a victim of its own success. In the globalization era, it has been severely impacted to the point that it turned into “global English”, or “Globish” – a kind of simplified English used by foreigners to communicate among themselves, with a stripped-down vocabulary, easy syntax and no figurative language whatsoever – or jokes, or cultural references. As Calliope Interpreters states, in this case: “Non-glish would be a better word. All too often, non-native English speakers feel they have no option other than to speak Globish.” (As a result, examples of English being “butchered” in the hands of amateurs can be found all over the Internet.) “It’s easy to be swayed by the idea that Globish equals direct – and therefore better – communication, but this conveniently ignores that meaning is most accurately conveyed in one’s own language.” What executive would rather give a presentation to a potential client in a foreign language they have not fully mastered rather than in their own mother tongue, at the risk of giving their customers a poor image of themselves and the company they represent?
At Chang-Castillo and Associates, we always work with professional interpreters and translators who are experts in their own language combination. So you can be fully confident that your message is perfectly conveyed – from or into English or any other language. Contact us today for true, accurate, professional translation and interpretation services – worldwide!