The Economist featured a very good article on the growing popularity of English in the European Union. Although English is not the official language of the EU, it is fast becoming the working language of the EU. According to the article, 92% of secondary-school students in the EU’s non-English-speaking countries are learning English, while only 33% are learning French and 13% are studying German.
Is English the World’s Lingua Franca?
While it is tempting to blame American hegemony for the penetration of its official language, there are a number of factors at work. True, American culture has made a major impact on what second language people choose to learn. But on a purely practicaly level, English has become an essential tool for international business. In the EU, there are more than 10 languages from which to choose. If your company has offices in Germany, France, Italy and Spain, and you gather everyone together for an annual meeting, odds are pretty good that the language of choice for the meeting will be English. A side effect of globalization is some degree of standardization — standardization of laws, tarriffs, and, yes, even language.
As the EU expands, expect English to become even more dominant. And expect more resistance from non-English-speaking countries. For example, France is resisting an EU patent law that would make English the sole language for patents. Says The Economist, it is a losing battle. This is not to say that languages are going away. English may be becoming the official “second language” of most of the world, but it’s still a very, very long way from becoming the first language.