The English language is becoming a global phenomenon. It is here to stay as a business communication tool of choice, with far-reaching consequences for both individuals and businesses worldwide.
This is a part of the series about global megatrends. Please read the introductory post.
Once upon a time, the successful businessman needed only to know his mother tongue to have a profitable career. In rare instances when foreign languages were involved, a translator would appear to navigate the situation. For a time, German, English, Russian, and many others were equal in the business world.
The best years of the USA as a world power may have already passed, but the rapid popular ascent of the English language all over the globe is due to more than just the recent success story of a single English-speaking country. English is an official language in 54 countries and some 27 non-sovereign entities around the world. 380 million people speak English natively. Many others speak it as a second language. Some estimates suggest that these two groups combined — native English speakers plus speakers of English as a second language — add up to 1.5 billion people. That is more than 20 percent of the current world population.
Despite its near-universal popularity, English is not the language that claims the highest number of native speakers worldwide. In terms of sheer numbers, the most popular language on earth is Mandarin. Yet Mandarin suffers from fundamental drawbacks. For one, it is notoriously difficult to learn. In addition to the fact that the spoken language is phonetically challenging, literacy in Mandarin requires the mastery of at least 4000 characters. English, by contrast, is fairly easy to learn for second-language speakers.
Beyond the inherent characteristics of the languages themselves, English also enjoys the advantage over Mandarin because of the difference in their relative global status. Mandarin is only used in China; it does not have a global character. For these reasons, Mandarin will never become a lingua franca. In fact, quite the opposite is happening: an increasing number of well-educated Asians diligently learn English, and so do pupils from other countries and language groups around the world.
The consequences of the English language megatrend are enormous and all-pervasive. Two of their chief areas of impact are the lives of individuals and the character of world business culture.
- More and more parents will send their children to English kindergartens and schools.
- English will become an official language in more countries worldwide.
- Without fluent English skills, it will become increasingly difficult to find a good job. Fluent, accent-free, and natively idiomatic English skills will become a minimum requirement for a successful corporate career.
- For native English speakers who are 1) professional English language teachers and 2) willing to relocate, the globalized world will offer an increasing number of lucrative and interesting job opportunities all around the planet.
- Fewer and fewer English-language publications, especially books, will be translated into different local languages; English skills will be essential for gaining access to literary and scientific knowledge.
- Billions of individuals will have access to a huge global knowledge base created in the English language. Technical and scientific knowledge in English will become a commodity. Creativity, social skills, and leadership skills will become more important and better paid than positions based on applied knowledge.
- Even in non-English-speaking countries, English will be adapted as a business language for all corporate divisions and subsidiaries worldwide.
- Thanks to the common business language, national job markets will merge into a global resource pool.
- Private English kindergartens and schools will become a globally expanding and highly profitable industry.
- Media offerings in local non-English languages will become less profitable, and the audience will increasingly consume English-language originals instead of the translated versions. Driven by popular demand, new English-speaking offerings (e.g., Hollywood productions) will increasingly be released to the global audience.
- Intellectual property will become a global commodity. New ideas will spread instantly across all national and organizational boundaries. Thus, the ability to execute will become a key management skill, whereas new disruptive ideas will instantly become a global public property.
The English language will become a common language around the world. It will become more independent from its historical roots (in Great Britain, the USA, etc.). All non-local, private businesses will be deeply Anglicized.
These developments will also be accompanied and challenged by various setbacks. For example, the French government has introduced quotas to limit the number of English-language songs that are aired on French radio. Similar measures may be used in other countries. However, such attempts will inevitably fail, because the individual benefits to be gained from speaking English will result in a reduction of language barriers within local populations, and such populist measures to protect local languages will, therefore, become less politically opportune.
We have only just begun to witness the dramatic impact of the English language megatrend on world affairs, the business world, and individual lives.
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