English being considered the lingua franca of this world is sure to get the back-up of those whose own native tongue is vastly more widespread in use—or at least equal to it—across the globe. We can look to Mandarin, Spanish, or even Russian as other contenders for this coveted title, and yet the fact remains that so much of our world is done in English. Around eighty percent of the information stored on our computers is entirely in English: how do the other languages get a look in?
Continuing our look at how, where, and why English has, despite other languages' prominence, become compulsory, we turn our attention to two vastly different sectors: tourism, and computer engineering. Join us!
For any volunteers out there, those of us who spend our summers cleaning up after occasionally-ungrateful hostel-goers whose sole purpose in life it seems is to make as much mess as possible, it is likely that no matter where you are volunteering, even if all of the business aspects of the, uh, business, are done in the native language of whichever country you have found yourself in, the vast majority of the staff there will have some kind of level of English. Why? Well, perhaps it is an assumption to expect every person travelling everywhere in the world to pick up enough local lingo to fully understand what our hoteliers are telling us, and it seems English has become the middleman in all of this. A halfway house, if you will, between a hosteler and a hotelier’s own native tongue.
This is potentially even more true at the more luxury end of the accommodation spectrum. If you are, for example, French, and find yourself in the Armani Hotel Dubai, perhaps you are nervous of attempting to get your tongue around the beautiful sounds of Arabic. What better way to bridge that gap than if you speak English, and the hotel staff speak English, communicating on neutral territory where you can both be understood whilst those native languages remain untarnished by an unfamiliar tongue?
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The customer is not always right
There is obviously more to it than avoiding poor pronunciation. Communication, and the all-important customer service, is crucial in the world of hotels and accommodation in general. How can you achieve good customer satisfaction if you do not understand them, and they do not understand you?
English, then, in terms of the tourism industry, can be considered more as a tool than a language, a way to potentially turn a one-time customer into a returning one. And on top of that, think of the litigation, the safety issues that could arise were there a communication breakdown. Your restaurant guest is allergic to shellfish yet because you don’t both speak the same language, your waiter recommends something that is distinctly fishy. There is a natural disaster, such as a tropical storm that hits your local resort, and your hotel guests go missing because they didn’t understand your instructions for how to get to the evacuation point. In an industry forever expanding, the possibilities for communication breakdowns are endless.
On the tips of our fingers tongues
For those of us who do the vast majority of our work on computers, and let’s face it, that is a substantial amount of us, we all know how to set our computers up to speak to us in the language that we choose. But behind the scenes, to get the computers to do the things we want them to do in the first place, there are numerous things us end-users should not have anything to do with. To find those magicians who do know what they are doing starts with recruitment drives, and in universities in IT-rich service countries such as India those recruiters often target first, those students who speak English, and second, those who show proficiency in the engineering skills needed to do the actual job.
Again, we can ask why, and again, our answer is communication. So much of our global business communication is done in English, and like the tourism industry, everything that falls within the bracket of computer engineering is also rapidly expanding, which in turn means English use expands along with it.
Truly international companies have offices spread over many continents at once, getting the best talent out there as well as servicing local customer needs. In a Skype meeting between colleagues calling it in from multiple time zones, it makes sense to have one neutral language that everyone can understand, rather than everyone learning Spanish to communicate with those in Santiago, and in turn learning German to speak to those in Dusseldorf. English is the middleman, the go-to, the easy alternative here.
What is our conclusion following this glimpse into the world of compulsory English then? Is it that English is justifiable as the holder of the title of unofficial lingua franca for all things commerce? Or is it simply that English is a convenient language to business in, rather than a particularly intelligent one? What are your thoughts?