Does language matter anymore?

We are all aware of the potential dangers of misinterpretation in translating and interpreting, but what about the dangers of misunderstanding even when participants share a language?  And is it really true that English is the world language of the future?

One of my ‘favourite’ arguments about globalisation and how small our world is becoming is that English is becoming the preferred language of business worldwide.  This has been used as an excuse to delay (or do away with) language teaching in schools, or for failing to translate materials at conferences and in multinational organisations.

Native English speakers, however, would have trouble recognizing the emerging universal English, or ‘globish’, a term coined by a French businessman and expat in 1995 (and which most recently has led to a book with that name written by Robert McCrum).  This is ‘English-lite’, a simplified version of English, which foreigners understand much better, devoid of accent, jargon, puns or emotional baggage.  It may not be the language of Shakespeare, but it’s a far better bet for you as a presenter at an international conference.

However, if you do want to convey nuances, if you do want to be subtle, or if you simply want to impress your foreign counterparts and build a relationship, nothing beats learning their language.  It’s not easy, but it’s a sure sign of interest and respect, and will bring you all sorts of additional benefits.  Be sure to learn not just how to translate your sentences in a linguistically accurate fashion, but also your meaning.  Because sometimes concepts do not travel well from one culture to another, even when the words seem to be perfectly clear.  ‘Decisive’ Japanese managers, anyone?



Filed under Globalization

6 responses to “Does language matter anymore?

  1. With the growth of Mandarin Chinese, English is definately not the language of the future. Esperanto however should be given serious consideration.

    The youtube video below is probably the best advert for Esperanto, as a lingua franca, I have ever seen 🙂

    At least Esperanto works, whereas English, at an international level, does not.

  2. Bill Chapman

    You wrote “…nothing beats learning their language. It’s not easy, but it’s a sure sign of interest and respect, and will bring you all sorts of additional benefits. ” Agreed, but whicjh language? I see a case for wider use of Esperanto.

    • sandaion6

      Esperanto is a great idea in principle (and much easier to learn than English) but it appears that the worldwide public favours English – or rather, this ‘light version of English’ known as globish.

  3. I love the distinction you make between communicating the basics clearly, and conveying nuance. So true!

    In the same vein, I often hear foreigners here (in China) say that Mandarin is a “simple” language, not as sophisticated as English. I think the opposite – but I’ve also been learning it for 17 years. Too often people don’t realise how much they DON’T know about their second language. I still don’t like to call myself fluent – because the better my Chinese becomes, the more I know I don’t know…

  4. I agree – the most complex language is the one you know best, usually! And I still dream of learning Russian at some point so I can read Tolstoy and Dostoevsky in the original. I just know I am missing so much even when I read the best translations available.

    • Oh I know! I recently read a series of novels translated from French and so many times I thought to myself “I bet this scene is more beautiful in the original….”

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