Cultural Imperialism or Economic Reality?

Why not GlobalMandarin or GlobalSpanish?

At GlobalEnglish, we’re often asked if we will be rolling out solutions for Mandarin, or even Spanish.  After all, only one twentieth of the world’s population speaks English as their native language.  Mandarin has more than double the number of native speakers than English, and with the economic growth and growing dominance of China, wouldn’t this seem like a natural offering?  Is this just another example of cultural imperialism, something that Americans are often accused of?

The world history of language dominance is a complex one, and different languages have acted as the “lingua franca” of business, religion and even politics throughout time.  Much of this was shaped by cultural imperialism and implemented through wars, conquests, and colonialism.  Early recorded history in Europe shows the dominance of Greek, then Latin (particularly as the church expanded throughout Europe), and then even the rise of German throughout Central Europe following the establishment of the Holy Roman Empire.

Before English, perhaps the best example of a language that came the closest to world dominance was French.  Throughout the middle ages and up until the 19th Century, French was largely considered the most important language in the world.  French became the language of administration and even became a language of superior status in England (used in law courts, etc.)  Even the modern Olympics, which started in 1896, adopted French along with English as its official languages! From the 1960s to the 1980s, many pundits predicted the rise to dominance of the Japanese language, given the remarkable economic growth of and perceived economic threat from Japan.  Schools started offering Japanese classes, and businesses started training their executives in Japanese.  However, that trend waned in the 1990s with the economic stagnation in Japan, and the focus later shifted to predicting the rise of Mandarin due to China’s remarkable growth. But the increasing dominance of the Chinese in world economics is happening simultaneously to globalization so as to make it effectively too late to adopt Mandarin as a global standard.

So, why wouldn’t English, like French, German, Greek, and Latin before it, wane in dominance over the next century as Mandarin rises?  The answer is simple — timing!

English came into dominance in the 20th Century at the beginning of a massive communications revolution and at the beginning of true globalization.  Although earlier dominant languages may have had some sense of global reach, communication and commerce across borders was still a very slow and expensive process.  Now, when many of these barriers to globalization have been brought down, English was already in the position of economic leadership.  How does the requirement for strong Business English skills manifest itself in global business?  When someone in the Netherlands does business with someone in Brazil, they need to find a universal language, and they default to English.  So while GlobalEnglish does not deny the importance of China or of the Mandarin language (just like it doesn’t deny the importance of Latin American countries and the Spanish language), it is clear that global businesses have already chosen English as their de facto language of commerce, and if anything, that role is strengthening.  This is why we are singularly focused on helping organizations succeed by equipping their employees with the Business English communication skills necessary to conduct global business.

What do you think? Is English increasing in importance in your global business?

This entry was posted in Business English, English Communication & Language Skills, Enterprise Fluency, Global Trends, GlobalEnglish Corporation, The GlobalEnglish Story and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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