English Will Remain The International Language

English Will Remain The International Language

The dominant position of English as an international language seems to create controversy in certain circles.

Some French people for example, resent the increasing importance of English in the European community. Claude Hagège is a spokesman for this point of view. French used to be the language of diplomacy and the preferred language of international exchange. Educated people in Europe, as well as the Americas, Africa, Asia and the Middle East were proud to speak French. This is much less so the case today.

The Chinese government is promoting the teaching of Mandarin around the world, through its Confucius Institute network, in order to establish Chinese as the new international language. Yet the difficulty of writing Chinese characters, and the tonal nature of the language, make it unlikely the Chinese will become a preferred language of exchange around the world.

 

International Language Politics

To some, the widespread use of English is seen as advancing the political agenda of the English-speaking world. Esperanto, is offered up as an alternative, as a politically neutral international language. Esperanto also has the advantage of being quite rationally constructed and easy to learn, apparently.

English Will Remain The International LanguageBut Esperanto has not really challenged the position of English as a practical means of international communication. There are supposedly 2 million Esperanto speakers in the world, but I have only ever met these people at polyglot conferences. On the other hand, there are apparently 1.5 billion speakers of English, mostly non-native speakers. That is 20% of the world’s population. If you are traveling in a country where you don’t speak the language, and you want to communicate with someone, it is unlikely that you would try Esperanto. Your best bet would be English. I don’t see that changing.

All languages are equally valuable cultural creations. Not all are equally useful in today’s globalized world. Often, when I read or hear someone skillfully use French, Japanese, Ukrainian, Korean, Mandarin, Russian or any of the languages I have learned, I am in awe of the natural elegance and power of that language. Every language is a masterpiece of human creativity, able to express the same thoughts but in its own unique way. These languages have evolved and changed over thousands of years, the accumulation of the inventions and innovations of thousands or millions of users throughout time.

 

Are There Languages That Could Replace English?

In my view, the use of English is too well established. It is simply too convenient for a Japanese person and an Indian, or a Brazilian and a Russian, to use English to communicate. The use of English as a highly convenient means of international communication is not likely to change in the foreseeable future. The relative power and influence of the United States and Britain will continue to decline. This will not, however, make English less useful, in my view. It may just make the political argument against English less relevant.

English Will Remain The International LanguageAt the same time, in a shrinking world, I expect to see an increasing interest in learning other languages, major regional languages, minor languages, threatened languages, artificial languages, all languages. It is hard to predict what role Chinese will have as an international language, especially in East Asia, as a result of China’s rise. Spanish is widely studied and easy to learn, with its consistent spelling. Could it assume more importance in Europe? Already Spanish and Portuguese speakers in Latin America can easily learn each others’ languages.

Will some standard form of Turkish become a lingua franca amongst the various countries of Central Asia? Will the role of Russian decline in the post-Soviet world as recently independent countries assert their cultural specificity? Or will Russian become more widely used as these countries feel more confident about their own identity and recognise the value of their common Russian language history? What about artificial languages like Interslavic for Slavic languages, or Interlingua for Romance languages? Will these have more success than Esperanto? We don’t know.

 

Language Learning in a Connected World

English Will Remain The International LanguageThe Internet makes it easier to learn languages, in ways that were not possible before. It makes it easier to connect with people who speak different languages. Not only can we learn languages faster, we can meet people with like interests more easily. There is a proliferation of people offering advice on language learning via YouTube and blogs, as I do for example. Language learning systems like LingQ, and the vast array of language resources on the web, make it easier than ever to learn languages.

It is not just potential regional languages of international communication that are in vogue these days. There is renewed interest in languages that used to be considered minor, or even threatened. The Internet is helping in the revival of these languages. Whenever I attend a polyglot conference I meet people who speak languages I have never heard of. And these are often languages with a lot of speakers, for example, Quechua, the ancient Inca language spoken in Peru and neighbouring countries.

The future of language learning is bright. I don’t see English pushing out other languages, However, from a practical perspective the role of English as the main international language is unlikely to change.

 

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18 comments on “English Will Remain The International Language

David

What do you think about Spanish? You didn´t mention it.
The learners of this language are increasing day by day.

David, I referred to regional languages. Spanish is one, but so are Russian, Arabic, Turkish, Swahili and others that I am not aware of. I think their importance will grow.

Yuri, you can learn other languages, and use other languages as much as possible. I do. However, you can’t resist or change the power of the utility of English for most people, as an international language of communication, in my view.

James Chalmers

What about the fact that English as a lingua franca is quite different to the English as used by native speakers? There are now more people who speak English as a second language than as a first. So the need for a more flexible language is necessary. People naturally change language to suit their needs and most people who speak English as a second language do not need to speak like a native speaker. On the other hand, with the rise of technology and its power to translate, is it not possible learning other languages may become unnecessary?

    Tim

    James, I think you are right about technology. Within a 20-50 years the quality of machine translation will probably have reached such a level that there will no longer be a need for an international language. Actually I think this could have some positive effects: apart from improving international communication, it will put speakers of “major” and “minor” languages on a more even footing and help to preserve linguistic diversity.

      Tony

      Tim I agree also. I think in 40 years it’s very reasonable to believe instant language translation that works seamlessly will be in existence. I have learned that those who support Esperanto and want to see it encircle the globe tend to disagree with this and say machine translation is impossible and will never happen. I was shocked at first thinking how can you be so near sighted about this. Sure now it seems that way, but 40 years is a long way off. I guess this doesn’t sit well with certain “linguistic” types who push for an Esperanto takeover, because 40 years could be just the time they see this transformation taking place, and the don’t want to see this pesky machine translation derailing their efforts to spread Esperanto. But I have to say, sorry, but trying to get one language to takeover is probably futile at this point. However, also exciting is if you have a desire to learn a new language, and the fact that practicing it is the only good option, you will also be able to talk to your computer in a language that is impossible to practice in your area because it’s just not simply spoken there. Heck you will be able to converse easily with live people on the other side of the world in that new language. Seeing them sitting right next to you in the same room. It’s going to be mind blowing what you can do.

      Erik L. Smith

      Having an international language is not just for understanding purposes, but for business purposes. No country or world is going to change the international language of business (and air travel) etc., just because we have better translation devices and more people as second language English speakers.

I think the native speaker remains the model in second language acquisition,whether for English or for other languages.

I think that more people will learn languages now and in the future, than before. It is possible to use modern technology, podcasts, the Internet, MP3 players, iPads, and yes even LingQ, to do so much more cheaply more effectively than in the traditional classroom.

Hamilcar

虽然我学习中文我真的喜欢英文。英文真的是很漂亮的语,也喜欢很多人学习英文, 如果英文不是国际的语就我不会跟国际的人谈谈,不每个人会学习每个语所以我们应该有一个国际的语。但是, 我觉得英文说的人应该学习学习第二语言, 英文的国家都是岛, 所以他们都只知道英文, 但我们在很小的世界英文人应该学习两个语, if only to be fair.

Name *Cobden Bastiat

Here’s the thing, as much as Esperanto fanboys would like you to think it’s “politically neutral”, this is far from the case… by far its biggest proponents have been communists and whacky religious cults! If I were to learn a constructed language, I would prefer Klingon by a long way – for a start, it was developed by an actual linguist (Zamenhof was merely a polyglot), and the story of how it was developed is very interesting in itself… 😉

Iuratum

What about the fact that English as a lingua franca is quite different to the English as used by native speakers? There are now more people who speak English as a second language than as a first. So the need for a more flexible language is necessary.

Tim

I agree that English will continue to serve in this capacity, at least for the foreseeable future. Despite technology and despite growth in interest in other languages, English is easy enough to be adopted by most people.

However, I see this as a negative thing for native English speakers, who are the least likely to speak more than one language. We have a silver spoon in this regard, and if/when the day comes when another language rises as the international language, most native English speakers are going to suffer. At least in my country where people say they speak Spanish because they can quote a Taco Bell commercial 😛

Traducciones juradas

In my view, the use of English is too well established. It is simply too convenient for a Japanese person and an Indian, or a Brazilian and a Russian, to use English to communicate.

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