23rd April marks English Language Day. Established in 2010 by UNESCO, the annual observance forms part of the United Nations’ celebration of each of its six working languages – Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish, all of which have their own official day of recognition.
Already a day of great cultural significance for England as St. George’s Day and the anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth and death, the addition of UN English Language Day gives us even more reason to spend the 23rd of April in appreciation of English’s contribution to world literature and culture.
A language spoken by just three tribes 1500 years ago, English has grown into the world’s unofficial lingua franca, with as many as 2 billion speakers spread across the globe. The influence of each English learner’s native language, culture, and customs on the way in which they communicate in English has led to an enormous number of geographical varieties in grammar, syntax, pronunciation and vocabulary, which have developed into dialects of their own. With modern day language adopting social media trends, including emojis, the English language is more varied, and maybe more confusing, than ever.
Reflecting further on the UN’s aims for the language days, the 23rd of April is also a day for native English speakers to consider looking beyond their mother-tongue. Given the language’s global reach, it can be tempting to rely on the rest of the world to learn to communicate with us, rather than making the effort to reach out to people in their own language.
Indeed, while it may appear that native English speakers are at an advantage in having such a widely spoken mother-tongue, by depending on English as our sole means of communication, we risk missing out on the many benefits and pleasures that come with speaking a foreign language.
UK students choosing to continue language learning at higher education is at an all-time low, and it’s no secret that Britain is the worst country in Europe when it comes to multilingualism. Without the young people of the UK learning languages, our multilingual country could slip down the global ladder in terms of what we can achieve in business, economics and social inclusion.
Those of the mentality that “English is the only language I’ll ever need” will be sure to fail when it comes to international affairs. British businesses wanting to expand into global markets need to engage with potential customers, no matter the language they speak. Research demonstrates that in an increasingly competitive and globalised marketplace, localising content to match the linguistic and cultural requirements of a target community can be the difference between failure and success abroad.
For example, did you know that 56.2% of consumers say that the ability to obtain information in their own language is more important than price of a product? Or that 95% of Chinese online consumers feel more comfortable on websites in their own language?
Still not convinced? We’ve gathered some facts and figures on doing business in other countries and turned them into easy to digest infographics:
With this in mind, 23rd April is the perfect time to celebrate our diverse and far-reaching mother-tongue, but also to remember that ours is just one language in a world where variety should be treasured and the value of each tongue recognised.