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 number 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 about 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 due to 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 must address their future language needs and train and hire accordingly.
Though predictions vary depending on the topic, 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.”
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 business in the country. In the US, some 13% of the population speaks Spanish at home. However, as the Spanish-speaking population is growing faster than the English-speaking one, it’s predicted that by 2050, one in three US citizens will speak Spanish. Spanish is far ahead of the 3rd most-used language in the US. As this trend progresses, governments, businesses and healthcare systems are trying to include Spanish in their daily communication. Talking to your customers in Spanish will become a critical success factor for business in the United States.
Not only are the numbers of speakers of each language important for businesses, but the economic importance of these speakers is also a consideration. The growth of China and India’s economies over the past two decades has been phenomenal. Citizens in these countries are far wealthier than ten years ago, consuming more products and services than ever before.
China is the world’s second-largest economy and is set to overtake the US soon as the biggest. Because of the rising affluence of its population, it’s become an increasingly important market for all sorts of international companies, such as Starbucks, McDonald’s and KFC, among many others.
Today some 1.117 billion people speak Chinese, including the different variants. 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 progress into other markets, the language will rise in importance. 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. China is funding huge infrastructure investments such as 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 the US level 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.
Even though it is one of the most spoken languages, the spread of Chinese worldwide 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 could be 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 worldwide. 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 most younger citizens in Gulf Arab states use English more than Arabic daily. This is a testament to the complexity of forecasting what languages will be on the rise.
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 for the future trajectory of the world’s most important languages. There are several effective steps to take that will future-proof any company 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 to be met, but 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 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 targetting the world’s most dynamic markets, such as China, India and Indonesia, your localization and translation services partner must 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 thorough 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, whether 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.