Posted on: 16 Aug 2012
Written by: bob
Have you wondered which languages would win medals if there was an Olympic Games for languages? The medals for highest number of native speakers would go to Chinese, Spanish and Hindi, but English would win silver if you are counting second-language speakers as well. Approximate figures are shown in the table.
In real life situations the relative importance of different languages is dictated by cultural and historical reasons. For instance the six official languages of the UN are not simply the world’s most widely spoken languages but the languages of the dominant powers who set up the UN just after the Second World War hence the omission of German and Japanese. The Olympic Games has a clear hierarchy of languages which we have observed over the last two weeks. Announcements are made first in French, the language of Pierre, Baron de Coubertin, who founded the modern Games, secondly in English as the most widely-understood language and thirdly in the language of the host country if that is different.
In business life, practical considerations or social etiquette might also dictate the most effective language to use, particularly in sales and marketing or human resources. In modern marketing theory, we are encouraged to give added value and provide a meaningful service to our clients. This can only be done genuinely in the client’s language and so companies of all sizes who are serious about foreign markets translate their literature and websites into different languages, and major corporations ensure employees have the language skills and cultural competence to support a global brand.
In the relocation industry most RSPs who work internationally are aware that one of the most visible challenges of a foreign assignment is to make the employee, spouse and children feel at home in a different language and culture. Offering language lessons or a cultural briefing workshop sends the message that the employee is being supported. The costs are not high, a tiny amount compared to big ticket items such as accommodation, tax, children’s education and travel allowances.
World Languages by Number of Speakers in millions (approximately!)
(Native & Official)
Note: It would be difficult to estimate the number of people who have learned these languages as a foreign language, but it is reasonable to assume that English is the most widely studied language.