British colonialism, world wars, Hollywood blockbusters—for reasons that stretch back for generations, English dominates the world scene, particularly when it comes to business. As the world shrinks and communications diversify, global professionals have come to rely on the Internet for fast, reliable, and shareable online business exchanges. In this system of global online communication, English has trumped other languages on the Internet as the one most commonly shared between international parties. For those who speak little or no English, online translation services like Google Translate offer some help, though not nearly enough.
Although Google Translate has made leaps and bounds in improving its accuracy and information base (you can still get a laugh from Translate’s less-than-perfect days, as seen in this endlessly entertaining video), it hardly serves as a reliable (or realistic) means of viewing all potential business-relevant websites in your native language. Online professionals are finding that a sturdy knowledge of English is the best way to get the most out of an online business experience.
Forbes Magazine discussed the English language’s international transition from being a “marker of the elite” to serving as a basic necessity for those entering the workforce. Much more than just a trend, evidence of this progression can be seen in Japan’s major clothing retail store Uniqlo, the Nissan Motor Company, Finnish telecom company Nokia, and German airline Lufthansa, which are just a few examples of the many international companies that have adopted English as their official language of business. The British Council predicts that two billion people will be studying English a mere five years from now.
As explained by linguist Kachru, the use of English across the globe is divided into countries where it is the mother tongue (e.g., the United Kingdom), those where it is an official second language (e.g., Singapore), and those where it is a prominently used foreign language (e.g., China). The latter categories are of particular interest, as these countries (many of which, such as Japan, Korea, China, and India, are major economic drivers) actually use English as the go-to common language or, as stated in The Japan News, a “social resource.” Whether meeting the needs of a social network, a large conglomerate, or a small online business, English is fast becoming the language of commerce worldwide.
An agency from Argentina may do business with companies in Japan and Saudi Arabia, but more than likely the language they use to speak to each other is English. English also distinguishes local businesses from those with international targets. Walking into a hair salon off the street in Taiwan, you’ll probably be greeted by a Mandarin Chinese–speaking clerk; however, if that same business has shops across Taiwan and a few in Korea, you’re more than likely to find its website in English. This is where the importance of knowing English comes into play to be profitable online.
A 2013 study reports that Spanish, Russian, and Mandarin Chinese are growing at faster rates online than English, but English is still the most commonly used language. As pointed out by Business Insider, the only language that has some real possibility to challenge English’s online reign is Mandarin. Yet because the Mandarin language is “one of the world’s most difficult to master, and least computer-friendly,” a successful coup is unlikely. Sure, Mark Zuckerberg made some news by holding a Q&A session at Beijing’s Qinghua University entirely in Mandarin (which is hilarious, for Facebook is still blocked from online users in China), but English still runs at an impressive lead over other languages on online platforms. In 2013, 55.5% of websites used English as their main content language, with German occupying the second-place slot at a lowly 6%. Mandarin, in contrast, was the language of choice of only 2.8% of websites, despite the fact that Chinese speakers made up the second largest body of Internet users worldwide (English speakers being the first, with over 800 million users, and the Chinese not far behind, with 650 million users).
As business enterprises encompass our ever-shrinking globe, one thing is for certain: English won’t be retreating any time soon. For online business professionals and others, knowledge of English is no longer merely a plus on a resume; it’s the backbone of communications and online profitability. Fortunately, the Internet is also a giving beast. With online courses such as GrammarCamp, anyone can initiate his or her own English-learning experience and kick-start a more profitable relationship with the online business world.
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