If you speak English, Spanish or Mandarin, you’ve got much of the business world covered. However, demographics are changing fast, and so too are the numbers of people speaking the world’s myriad languages. This has far-reaching consequences for businesses and their business translation requirements, notably in terms of what products and services they offer, how these are marketed and also with regard to the workforce’s language skills.
According to the World Economic Forum, one in three of us today speaks one of just three languages as our mother tongue. These languages are Chinese, Spanish and English. Combined, some 2 billion speak them. They’re followed in order by Arabic, Hindi, Bengali, Portuguese and Russian. Fluency in these languages is vital for engaging in business with a huge proportion of the world’s population.
Today, English is used as a lingua franca in international translation companies, primarily the result of colonial expansion. Indeed, it’s an official language in 67 countries. Not only that, it’s the most popular second language in the world. In international translation companies, having a workforce with English-language skills is vital. But English’s dominance is waning. Therefore, businesses need to address their future language needs and train and hire accordingly.
Though predictions vary depending on the purpose of language-speaking and location of speakers, the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China) countries feature prominently in lists of the most spoken languages of the future. The Washington Post reports that “Hindi, Bengali, Urdu and Indonesian will dominate much of the business world by 2050, followed by Spanish, Portuguese, Arabic and Russian.”
Languages of the future
One big change already underway is the transition of the US from a predominantly English-speaking country to a mixed Spanish- and English-speaking one. Therefore, Spanish will increasingly be a requirement for doing business in the country. In the US, some 13 of the population speaks Spanish at home. However, as the Spanish-speaking population there is growing faster than the English-speaking one, it’s predicted that by 2050, one in three US citizens will speak Spanish. Spanish far exceeds the 3rd most used language in the US. As this trend progresses, governments, business and health care systems are making efforts to include Spanish in their communications. Having too few Spanish-speaking staff on the team, could dent a company’s ability to engage with its clients or customers in the US.
Not only are the numbers of speakers of each language important for businesses, the economic importance of these speakers is also a consideration. The rise of China and India’s economies over the past two decades has been phenomenal. Citizens in these countries are far wealthier than just 10 year ago, and they consume more products and services than ever before.
China is the world’s second largest economy and is set to overtake the US in the near future as the biggest. Because of the rising affluence of its population, it’s become an increasingly important market for all sorts of international companies like Starbucks, McDonald’s and KFC, among many others.
Today some 1.117 billion people speak Chinese, which includes the language’s many dialects. But as the market is becoming more and more important for international business, and as Chinese firms like Tencent, Alibaba, ICBC and China Mobile make inroads into other markets, the language is going to rise in prominence. For example, China’s Belt and Road Initiative, which comprises massive infrastructure construction in numerous countries across the world, has seen the rise of Mandarin learning in places like Africa, where China is growing in prominence. Chinese capital is funding huge infrastructure investments like dams, railways, ports and telecommunications projects in these countries.
The Financial Times estimates that between 2000 and 2014, Chinese investment in Africa went from 2% of US levels to 55%. Furthermore, McKinsey estimates that, at the current pace, China will surpass US levels of investment within a decade. Given these profound changes, it’s easy to see why the Chinese language is growing increasingly important. For example, when looking at languages more people understand Mandarin and simplified Chinese than Cantonese. Therefore, this is an important consideration when thinking about a quality translation of English for a Hong Kong audience.
Despite the fact that it is one of the most spoken languages, the spread of Chinese around the world is somewhat limited. “Chinese is only rarely used in sciences and difficult to read and write,” says German linguist Ulrich Ammon, drawing on his multi-year analysis of languages. This looks set to change.
Another case in point is Arabic. It’s the official language of 22 countries that comprise the Arab League and it covers more than 300 million speakers across the world. The population in the Middle East is expected to double to over 1 billion by 2100. Indeed The British Council ranks Arabic as the second-most important language in terms of international trade and business, for Britons to learn.
However, one point to note is that a majority of younger citizens in Golf Arab states use English more than Arabic on a daily basis, which is a testament to the complexity of forecasting what languages will be on the rise in the future. This can be a good guide for when considering Farsi vs Arabic for your company’s marketing materials.
Business translation tips for the future
Given the linguistic developments already underway, it’s essential that businesses not only calibrate their current operational strategies to align with these changes, but also plan ahead for the future trajectory of the world’s most important languages. There are several effective steps to take that will future-proof any firm in terms of language.
Perhaps the most important is to partner with the best translation services company, so not only are today’s language needs met, but so that you’ll be well-positioned to navigate the impending linguistic changes outlined above.
The second step is to focus staff training and hiring on the languages that are spoken in your target markets, but also with an eye on the trajectory of the development of various languages. For example, if your firm is eyeing expansion in Asia, Mandarin would be a safe bet.
If your firm is servicing the world’s most dynamic markets, such as China, India and Indonesia, then your localization and translation services partner and staff should be familiar with the languages spoken there. Before embarking on wholesale change, in terms of hiring or finding translation agencies online, it’s best to conduct through research and seek the advice of independent experts. They’ll help you to determine whether you would be better off with multilingual voice over services, or multilingual translation services options are best or, indeed, what professional localization and translation services would be suitable.
To explore solutions for your language needs, both for today and the future, get in touch with Into23 today.