Europe South Asia Asia Pacific Americas Middle East Africa BBC Homepage World Service Education

 You are in: Talking Point
Front Page 
UK Politics 
Talking Point 
In Depth 

Commonwealth Games 2002

BBC Sport

BBC Weather

Thursday, 23 August, 2001, 10:24 GMT 11:24 UK
Is the English language conquering Europe?
Select a link below to watch our Talking Point On Air programme on this subject:

56k modems

European Commissioner Neil Kinnock has been accused of trying to increase the dominance of the English language in the European Union.

The French and German foreign ministers have made a formal protest to the European Commission about his proposals to cut the bill for translating documents.

They believe the plan - which would restrict some documents to the language in which they were written originally - would favour English.

Marc Roche of Le Monde newspaper, criticised Mr Kinnock's plans: "It's a terrible idea... It's a perfidious British plot in order to transform the EU into a sort of English speaking area."

Is English taking over as the dominant language in Europe and the rest of the world? Should we all be speaking in one tongue or do we risk losing the cultural diversity of a multilingual world?

We discussed this issue LIVE in our Talking Point phone-in programme broadcast on BBC World Service Radio and on BBC News Online. You can use the form at the bottom of the page to add to the debate.

  • Read what you have said since the programme
  • Your comments during the programme
  • Your comments before the programme

    Your comments since the programme

    This Talking Point has now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.

    In this debate, I too would like to fly the flag for Esperanto. it is the only truly neutral language in the world. It is far from being dead, as asserted by some of your contributors. This is evidenced by the large number of Esperanto sites on the internet and the worldwide network of delegates of the Universal Esperanto Association delegates.
    Dennis Pease, Auckland New Zealand

    English is the best solution

    Mihai, Romania
    Hi, I'm from Eastern Europe and I'm working now in France as IT programmer. Well, in this country those that speak ENGLISH are rare birds - even my French colleagues. In my country, as poor as she is, a lot of people are talking very good English. Why here on the continent the people are so stupid and do not understand that without a common language you can't talk about European Union? English is the best solution.
    Mihai, Romania

    Having English as a universal language should be deemed an advantage. In this ever-shrinking world, we need a common spoken protocol to allow us to get by unhindered wherever in the world. If this language happens to be English, then let it be. By no means does this mean that one has to trade in one's own mother tongue. I speak 5 languages including English. I do not for one second consider myself English, but I certainly have an advantage over the person who can't speak it, both socially and cognitively.
    A Khan, UK

    We are lucky in that we do not need to learn another language

    John Leffingwell, US
    After viewing the programme, I realised that we "English as our first language" speakers may be missing some important point. Kathy Rooney, the UK editor-in-chief of Encarta World Dictionary, was surprised by the callers that could tell there was a difference between US and British English. As "American English" is my first language, I agreed with her. I speak with many London colleagues daily in dealing with our UK operations and have never had any difficulties.

    However, after this programme, I am wondering if people that speak a different language as their "first language" are more aware of the variances of English throughout the UK, US, Australia, Canada, etc. When we are communicating with people whose SECONDARY language is English, we need to make sure that we do not use 'figures of speech' and regional terms. After all, we are lucky in that we do not need to learn another language. So the least we can do is make it easier for people that are willing to learn our primary language, right?
    John Leffingwell, Minneapolis, US

    On our first trip to Europe from the Antipodes a couple of years ago, England was the country where we had most language difficulties: a lifetime of Australian English just isn't good preparation for the various regional accents. Communication on the continent was simple, because we were constantly in touch with local Esperantists. By using Esperanto, EU countries could all keep their own language, their national pride, and much of the translation money. But maybe Neil Kinnock and Co. find it more fun to stir up trouble by pushing their own language.
    Hazel Green, Oakey, Australia

    There really is a double-edged sword here

    Michael Chee, Singapore
    It is unfortunate that many people have chauvinistic notions about English (either for and against) because there really is a double-edged sword here. Those for whom English is a mother tongue have a powerful advantage in that they have to work less to communicate in the business, scientific and educational worlds. However the flip side is that these peoples don't have a 'private' language anymore and unless they comply with dominant standards of usage (e.g. the different sense in which 'table a meeting' is used in the US and UK) they stand to be misunderstood.
    Michael Chee, Singapore

    Perhaps it is time Esperanto made a comeback...
    SE, UK

    The English language is a beautiful language, maybe it's like a rose. But who would ever want their garden just full of roses?
    Noel Kearney, Dun Laoghaire, Ireland

    What's wrong in having one language?

    Alan Chambers, Poland
    I have spent most of my life working around the world and as an Englishman I have never had many problems. Of course the French would get ratty about the use of English but that's normal. Just ask yourself one thing about Europe. They all want a single currency and they all are happy, it would appear, to live in a quasi-federal society. So what's wrong in having one language? You pays your money and takes your choice.
    Alan Chambers, Warsaw, Poland

    I find the idea really strange, if not dangerous. From the whole story, it is the English language which will draw enormous advantages and no one else! English as a world language is very widespread and it does not need a new push. The commission should concentrate rather on promoting the linguistic diversity of the EU instead of promoting English! And why English and not French? A lot of the EU bureaucrats speak excellent French. I am totally against this suggestion and I am afraid it can be taken as an alarming sign of the anti-democratic spirit of the EU.
    Juan de Sades, Cordoba, Spain

    The people who will really lose out if English becomes the international language are the English. Non-native English speakers can keep their own language and cultures but we will be forced to give ours up. English, as spoken by English people, is a diverse and beautiful language whether used by the world or just by the English.
    Sasha, London, UK

    I think the language problem will disappear with the help of computer translators

    Victor, France-Russia
    Everybody speaking at least one foreign language knows there are different levels of understanding and the best of all you understand your own language. But I think that the language problem will disappear in nearest time with the help of computer translators. You will just choose a language option like you can choose encoding now, and you will read the text in your own language.
    Victor, France-Russia

    My case is special because I live in a French-speaking country but I hate French. This is why I spend most of my time learning English. I notice that everything around me is English - the American films, the Internet, etc. I think the French and the Germans are jealous, but they can't stop the influence of English in Europe because the USA dominate the world by their language - English.
    Omar, Dakar, Senegal

    The usage of one language by another in certain fields is perfectly logical. It's exactly what happened when the Romans came north. Their language was exported through trade, and as administration, science and other new concepts were introduced into less advanced areas of our cultures. It's happened before, people, and there's no way of stopping it. Maybe the French should remember their repression of regional dialects in favour of Parisian French, not so long ago.
    Caroline Van Mogh, Nottingham, England

    I like British English more than American

    Vlad Povoroznic Moldova
    I like British English more than American, but Americans are more rich, population is bigger and that's why American English now is more needed in my country (in Eastern Europe) than British. But the difference between them is not so big.
    Vlad Povoroznic, Moldova

    What is this difference between US English and UK English that people are going on about? - a 'z' instead of an 's' here and there and calling the things you wear on your legs by a different name. It's the same language with regional variations. Even in the UK, different parts of the country use different words for the same thing. If you speak English, be it UK or US, you understand what is said.
    Leo Bryan, UK

    Well, I always find it quite embarrassing when the cash clerk in Amsterdam can speak three different languages fluently whilst the majority of 'professional' British people can barely order a beer in Dutch, or German, or French - terrible situation. Let's face it, folks, our language ability in the UK is appalling.
    Garry Brown, Scotland, UK

    It's really difficult to survive in an EU country unless you know its language

    Garima Khare, Germany
    I am an Indian living in Germany for my studies. In these few months I have discovered that though they know English, people just do not wish to speak it. It's really difficult to survive in an EU country unless you know its language. Even in public places like banks and shops, I find people who just don't want to speak English. Even in the university, where there are lots of foreign students from all parts of the world, the talks and seminars are generally in German, which is really very stupid. So I believe that if they all spoke English, life would be easier here and more people would come.
    Garima Khare, Germany (Indian)

    English is the great British export. The French and Germans inflict on the UK their EC bureaucracy. We retaliate by exporting our language. Frankly, what do the hypocritical French and Germans expect? After all, we are only playing by their rules.
    Peter, London

    Let's take the jingoism out of this debate

    Nolan Quigley, Belgium
    Let's take the jingoism out of this debate. This is European Year of Languages, we should be celebrating our rich linguistic heritage. As someone who works inside a European Institution I can tell you that French far outweighs English in daily use here but English and to a lesser degree German and Spanish are being used more and more.

    In Brussels, English is widely spoken especially by lobbyists and it tends to be the common language when you get a group of people together from all corners of Europe either socially or in a work environment. But so what? If you take the time to learn other languages, this whole debate is irrelevant. Incidentally, much of the English spoken on the 'Continent' is of the American style, we Brits may not like that, but c'est la vie!
    Nolan Quigley, Belgium (from UK)

    At the University of Southern California, as a student, I witnessed foreign students speaking a mix of their native language and English using the words from each that allowed them to best express themselves. Also, in Southern California, a new type of pidgin known as Spanglish has arisen with some second generation Hispanic-Americans.
    Josh, Los Angeles, USA

    Every language has its peculiarities and we should be celebrating these

    Hannah, France
    The comments about English being somehow "better", more logical, or more communicative than other languages are simply unfounded. Every language has its richness, and every language can express the concepts it needs to express - whether by borrowing, adapting, or creating new terms. This may occur quite naturally or it may be governed by some linguistic authority.

    And is English really so clear and logical for foreign speakers? What about rough, through, bough, lough and cough, (five different ways of pronouncing the "ough" cluster)? If we're talking about simplicity, then Spanish and Italian seem to me far more "logical" when it comes to spelling and pronunciation, even grammar. Every language has its peculiarities, and we should be celebrating these, rather than looking for petty reasons to make one language "superior".
    Hannah, France (ex UK)

    English as an international language is used all over the world. Every person must know English to learn about world. So English is an important language.
    Yubaraj Pandey, Kathmandu, Nepal

    There are probably very few languages not to have some representation

    Stephen, England
    English like its people is mongrel in nature taking from other languages. There are probably very few languages not to have some representation. This in biological terms is known as hybrid vigour. As China increases its world trade expect to see more and more Chinese learning English as mentioned elsewhere - the better your English the higher your wages. By the way in France it was recently decided all scientific papers in future had to be published in English.
    Stephen, England

    English is the language of capitalism and it is therefore inevitable that it becomes the language of the capitalist societies that control this world. Long live Mother Russia!
    Alec Mikarov, Moscow, Russia

    My advice to the Germans and the French is to insist on making American English the EU standard. That will force the English of continental Europe - on that little island - to speak and write properly. See how much they will enjoy doing that! Their moans and groans will equal the current mutterings of the Germans and French.
    Loodt Pretorius, Santiago, Chile

    Language is the great divider of people on this planet. If we wish be as one then we need to speak as one.
    George Hamilton, Virginia Beach, VA

    English has always historically adapted

    Gaya Embuldeniya, Hong Kong
    It will never be possible to truly "speak one tongue" globally. Even amongst the English speaking population there are as many forms of standard English as there are countries. Change, adaptation, is the only thing that keeps the language alive. And English has always historically adapted and will continue to adapt, to reflect differing socio-economic/cultural environments.
    Gaya Embuldeniya, Hong Kong

    It makes sense to have a common language - and English is the natural choice. I don't see the prospect of another language at this point. Even those who speak the language with the most number of speakers, Mandarin Chinese, are rushing to learn English.
    Peter Tan, Singapore, Singapore

    I feel that in the future English will remain the most widely spoken language of international trade. However, the other important languages of the world such as Russian, Spanish, Arabic, French and Portuguese will become more regionalised.
    Jaime Riverera, Nicosia, Cyprus

    Too many people in the UK speak no foreign languages and have no wish to make the slightest linguistic effort

    Thomas Dodd, UK
    Let's be honest for a moment. A great many comments posted from UK citizens rejoicing in the domination of the English language hide a less than palatable truth. Too many people in the UK speak no foreign languages and have no wish to make the slightest linguistic effort. I look forward to the day when we rid ourselves of our complacent and arrogant attitude to foreign languages and move away from hiding our embarrassment by using the "Well everybody speaks English anyway" defence.
    Thomas Dodd, UK

    One thing you haven't discussed yet in your programme on the English language is the effect of the globalisation of English on the viability of other languages. We need to think of ways of helping smaller indigenous languages to survive before they reach the point of disappearing. One reason to try and preserve languages is that language and culture are closely related, and it would be a great pity if these cultures were lost for ever.
    David, St. Petersburg, Russia

    There seems to be an impression that British English and American English are vastly different. Aside from slightly different spellings for certain words, what is the difference?
    Johne S. Morton, Baltimore, MD

    In South Africa we have about eleven official languages

    John Wilsworth, South Africa
    In South Africa we have about eleven official languages. By default, English is becoming the widest used because so many of the others are regional. However, the standard of English is sometimes very poor and pronunciation can be almost incomprehensible. In all the globalisation, it is important that a repository of good English be maintained. In this the BBC is doing sterling work.
    John Wilsworth, South Africa

    In my modest opinion English is already the only way of communicating effectively all over the world whether one likes it or not. I am not saying that it is fair but this is the reality and trying to take it back at this stage of the matters would be just ridiculous.
    Jerry Bilan Poland

    I agree with the melting-pot theory as to why English became a global language. It's this quality of adapting and assimilating elements from other cultures and tongues, that gives English that unique "je-ne-sais-quoi". When confronted with foreign influences on their language, the French react with pompous chauvinism; the Germans torment themselves with angst, but the English have never made a great fuss about maintaining english in its pristine, "pukka" form. That is the great strength of this language.
    Praveen Bharadhwaj Ahmedabad, India

    English has a lot going for it as lingua franca

    Peter Aspey, Rotterdam, NL
    English has a lot going for it as lingua franca. But this need not imply the weakening of other languages and their speakers should retain full respect for their own tongue. After more than 25 years in The Netherlands, I do not see that English is 'taking over', despite the obvious awareness of English and a liberal 'spattering' of it in written and spoken communication. On the contrary, Dutch remains a rich, living language with very much its own identity.
    Peter Aspey, Rotterdam, NL

    Some of your comments about translating documents into just one-language sounds great. In California we translate all of our state and federal documents into what seems to be the cornucopia of languages. Not just Spanish, but Mandarin, Russian, Japanese, etc. I'm sure it's costing us tax payers a tremendous amount of money but at least immigrants are able (hopefully) to understand our laws better.
    Jason, San Francisco, CA

    I agree with many respondents that if English is to be dominant for a time, it should be UK English and not the mutant form we speak in the US. I enjoy our hybrid as a cultural expression, but would not encourage its being forced on the unsuspecting non-American.
    Richard Banner, Kansas City, MO USA

    Your comments during the programme

    The introduction of english has had a disastrous effect on Indian education

    Nishant Gupta The Netherlands
    The introduction of english has had a disastrous effect on Indian education. People are being forced to learn subjects such as mathematics, in a language which very often they do not fully understand. It is a sorry state in India, where the status of a person is determined by how well he speaks english.
    Nishant Gupta The Netherlands

    One should learn English if they one to connect with the world. You can be an international pop star unless you sing it in English. Look at Celine Dion. She was singing in French and it didn't get her anywhere until she started singing in English.
    Jimmy Su, Malaysia

    Most people in the world speak at least two languages or dialects the lingua franca and the very local one. English speakers of the world will miss out through not having their own intimate and private language of their area.
    Jonathan Arthur, Cortona Italy

    You were quite right when you say that English ia a dominant language nowdays.It has got its popularity through its history. But as you know nothing lasts forever. Maybe Russian will substitude it some day. Who knows? No one.
    konstantin, Moscow

    The way I see it is that there will be a more mature(not necessarily pure) form of English emerging, a language that would have borrowed extensively from regional languages and dialects. With people coming closer than ever before the media will play a large part in what form English takes in Europe and elsewhere. It might lead to a more homogeneous culture in Europe.
    Sunil Kothari, India

    English gives us a big advantage when it comes to international commerce, entertainment and the internet

    Bright Oduri-nimo Accra, Ghana
    I am in an area of the world where English is a second language due to our colonial heritage. However people here in Ghana do not see the all-conquering nature of English. Instead Spanish which a minority of Ghanaians speak as a third language has gained the status as an intellectual language. I must say that the Spanish frenzy will catch on as time goes on, but English being our second language gives us a big advantage when it comes to international commerce, entertainment and the internet.
    Bright Oduri-nimo Accra, Ghana

    One should not forget the subdivisions within English as well. The English spoken in Louisiana and Mississippi is quite different from the English spoken in New York and the West End of London and Australia for example.
    Christopher Baker, Tilburg, The Netherlands

    US English has become THE international language

    Charlie Diamond Toronto, Canada
    The Queen's English is not the universal language. US English has become THE international language. Books, music, movies and computers (manuals and software) are either predominantly US English or geared to US English. The USA is the new Roman Empire, which probably more than anything, explains the rise of US English.
    Charlie Diamond Toronto, Canada

    In recent decades computers have played a role in the spread of English language that cannot be underestimated. One had and still has to make special efforts to use a different language in a computer environment, even if the language uses the same or almost the same alphabet. The complexity of the Japanese writing system has rendered it virtually impossible for the Japanese to use computers to write in their native language. Plus, the Internet has been almost fully English until very recently. And in today's computerized society this is bound to have a tremendous effect.
    Alexander Kayumov, Ekaterinburg, Russia

    Europe can never be truly united until we all speak the same language - it is unimportant what that language is. I'd happily speak French if everybody else in the EU was made to. If, as it seems, that Language ends up being English I only hope that the powers that be do all they can to make true English the official language and not the US hybrid that most continentals speak.
    James Pittman, England

    Try to imagine the outcry if the EU wouldn't translate everything into english

    wim, Brussels, Belgium
    Equality of all European citizens requires that they have access to all official documents in their own language, even if they have good knowledge of english of as a second language. It may be costly and irritating to have to translate all documents, but it is necessary to realise democratic rights. I'm surprised by the Europhobia of many english contributors, just try to imagine the outcry in England if the EU wouldn't translate everything in english.
    wim, Brussels, Belgium

    I am all for english as a language of communication. However it is not democratic that the European Union wants to abolish a number of languages. I want to be able to read suggestions for new laws in my own language - and not everyone speaks english well enough to read a complicated law text. Do we only want academics to participate in the shaping of the future?
    Niels Astrup, Denmark

    Once again, I have heard someone erroneously stating that "Chinese" is the most widely spoken language in the world and English comes second. There is no such language as "Chinese". Some people, wrongly, use this word to describe "Mandarin" but Mandarin is not spoken by all - or even a majority - Chinese people. Thus, English - whether we like it or not - is the most widely spoken language in the world.
    Hazel Larkin Singapore

    I think English has it's own jurisdiction. The developed and entertainment world is English because of America, but business is diverse in language. however permit me to say that language like Chinese is difficult to learn. Once the alphabet is same with english , it is easy like spanish and french.
    Lawrence Nwachukwu Nigeria

    At the EU bureaucratic level, it may make economic sense to reduce expenditure on translation expenses. Think about other worthwhile projects those funds can be spent on: housing projects for the poor, development aid, etc.
    Christopher Baker, Tilburg, The Netherlands

    English is the dominant language of business and computing. French moaning will not change that.
    Joe London, London UK

    Your comments before we went ON AIR

    Wouldn't it be nice to have a language that all the member states could use?

    Mark Cobb, Vienna, Austria
    I have lived in Austria now for five years and I now realize how important it is to have a common language that the majority of the EU countrys use. I have spent a lot of time and money in the past getting documents translated, wouldn't it be nice to have a language that all the member states could use?
    Mark Cobb, Vienna, Austria

    I personally think that we are a little too lazy. From what I've seen in school, people couldn't care less about trying to learn another language. Also, about holding on to native tongues... I think that we need to do that just as much as everyone else.
    Andrew, Crawley, England

    The reason why English has become the international language is because those in the USA which, like it or not, dominate the world in business and culture can not speak a second language. This is a product of chauvinism, geographic isolation, and an education system that does not strongly promote the learning of different tongues by its youth.
    Dr. Russell Trahan, USA

    Seems to me that all your respondents so far have missed an important point - the "English" that is becoming the world language of trade and commerce is NOT the "Queen's English" but rather the "President's English" - Shaw wrote something to the effect that England and the USA are two countries separated by a common language - the language that is becoming worldwide is not English English but USAlish - already widely spoken in the U.K.
    Ron Garland, Edmonton, Canada

    English is definitely taking over in Germany

    David Gatenby, Duesseldorf, Germany
    English is definitely taking over in Germany. Half the TV and poster advertising slogans are in English. Germans talk about the "Fitness-center," not the "Sportszentrum."The French are only complaining about the spread of English because they wanted theirs to be the lead language. Sour grapes.
    David Gatenby, Duesseldorf, Germany

    Like it or not, English is the language of international commerce

    Eric Ottens, Delray Beach, USA
    Like it or not, English is the language of international commerce. Ask anyone with experience in the international markets, irrespective of the country, if you do not speak English, you are at a serious disadvantage. English as the world's primary international language is here to stay and learning English should be encouraged on a global scale.
    Eric Ottens, Delray Beach, USA

    As an (English) English teacher in Taiwan and formerly in Thailand, I say it is clear that (American) English is already the "lingua franca". I mourn the loss of cultural identity this causes, but these kids are avid to learn English from three years old.
    james skipp, Adelaide, Australia

    I don't think English will take over the world but many people will know how to speak it. I personally think that the more languages you know, the better you are. From a language you can also learn about the culture, history and the meaning of the language and the country.
    Sherwin Lo, San Francisco USA

    Apropos of the comments of some English responders, I recall an old canard quoted by my English grandfather that anyone can understand English if it's spoken loudly enough! Rule Britannica!
    William Latimer, Overland Park, Ks USA

    It's all about trade

    Chris Beck, USA
    It's all about trade. The US trade has made American the worlds language. Also, if the US government would have voted for german as the official language of this country (lost by 1 vote), than the major language would probably be german.
    chris beck, USA

    I work in retail, and I see thousands of multilingual labels and promotions in a year. It seems to me that the succintness of English gives it a great advantage. Example: for a 6 syllable label in English, German will use some 8 or 9, French and Spanish 12 to 14 syllables. I assume English's multiple inheritance (German & French) has given it the option to optimise over the centuries.
    Steve carpenter, Portland Maine USA

    The English are the real losers, because they lack the need to learn another language

    Babu Gorge, Shah Alam, Malaysia
    English is poised to conquer the world or may be it has, in terms of usage and commercial value. In many countries the better English one speaks the higher will be his earnings. However, I am inclined to believe that the English are the real losers, because of the lack of a need and commitment to learn another language. They will probably become more snobbish in condemning the others who are trying, without knowing the real difficulties of learning another language.
    Babu Gorge, Shah Alam, Malaysia

    Try to learn Czech and the reasons for the dominance of English will become clear

    Gary Rostock, Prague, Czech Republic
    I am an ex-English teacher now living in the Czech Republic and over several years I have noted the rise of English as the business language of choice in Western and Eastern Europe. This is not due to imperialistic notions linked to history but to the fact that English is an extremely easy language of communication which a beginner can learn to an intermediate level in a very short period.

    As an IT Consultant I must also state that Microsoft, Apple and the IT industry have also played their part, as the language of IT is once again English. Pseudo code and scripts, such as Javascript and HTML are written in English. Finally, if in doubt please try to learn Czech and the reasons for the dominance of English will become clear.
    Gary Rostock, Prague, Czech Republic

    Spanish is not more spoken in ANY state in America than English. English is still the most overwhelmingly spoken language in Texas, New Mexico and other states where Mexican immigrants go. In the early 1900's, people had the same misconception about the massive amounts of German immigrants pouring into the states with little or no English skills. Those immigrants learned English as did all of the other European and Asian immigrants and the Mexican immigrants will too, eventually.
    Reese, Memphis, USA

    I hope and pray that all of you in Europe will hold on tightly to your native languages

    Cari, USA
    I know I'm an outsider, but I hope and pray that all of you in Europe will hold on tightly to your native languages. I have studied Spanish, French, German, and some Italian. There is such beauty in these languages, and each allows expression to a deeper extent and in a different manner than the others. I agree with Panos from Greece that throughout history, the dominant economic power has infiltrated the language of every other country. But the languages have rarely truly died.
    Cari, USA

    The reality is that people who cannot speak foreign languages are attached to the locality and make an easy underpaid and overtaxed labour. This labour is so scared to lose its local job that it is often ready to back any nationalist policies. Thus, the most basic labour and the most sophisticated elite together, hand in hand, try by all means to refrain the middle class to switch from the French to the English.
    Erwan Gallou, Paris, France

    As far as Germany and France are concerned, neither their language nor their culture is in any danger of extinction. Will the French and the Germans stop learning their language if it's not an "official EU language"? Will they abandon their culture? I doubt it... How come small countries like Greece keep their language and culture, and huge countries like Germany and France are afraid of losing them?
    George, Boston, United States

    Language is for communication - the preservation of national pride takes a distant second place

    Kieran Wright, Hong Kong China
    It is fortunate for the world that one language, English, has become predominant, and we should continue to encourage it. Language is for communication - the preservation of national pride takes a distant second place. Like most languages, English has a number of strong regional variations in its mother country and some of these variations are in fact not understandable to speakers of International English. Once this is realised, perhaps we could move away from any "ownership" debate.
    Kieran Wright, Hong Kong China

    I don't see a problem with English dominating the world. Doesn't everybody use automobiles, doesn't everybody use electricity, doesn't everybody use computers? Who cares about where all these inventions came from. Everybody should use English. Who cares if it came from England.
    Narayan, India

    As a French scientist working in an English-speaking environment I can complain about a few things but I have to admit that English makes communication easier. However English is often more "sloppy" than French, which tends to be more precise, a useful trait for diplomatic transactions for example. One of my problems is that the use of English selects people on their fluency in English at the expense of other qualities. Take a top scientist unable to get understood in English (as are some French or Japanese people) and their work becomes almost useless.
    Fabrice Ardhuin, Monterey, CA, USA

    I think that people who want to save "money" by using a unique language are the same who think that the EC is too expensive for their "purse". These kind of people forget that national language is not money but 'CULTURE'. They forget that national language is not Mac Do but it is literature, poetry, charm - everything which makes our world beautiful.
    Richard Griffault, France

    Speak well of others and others will speak well of you, and it won't matter what language you speak it in!
    Lou, UK

    In our meetings it's the British who often have difficulty expressing themselves

    Daniel, Netherlands
    Being active myself within a European political youth organisation, I have first hand experience of what English monolingualism for Europe could mean: the end of British or Irish English as we know it and the grand emergence of Euro-English. In our meetings it's the British who often have difficulty expressing themselves and being understood by the other - non-native - English speakers, as the Brits do this in their mother tongue on a (too high) level which most of the other second language users simply do not understand. Once we may have one working language in the EU, I hope the British and Irish are prepared for this.
    Daniel, Fryslân, Netherlands

    Most participants of this discussion are just people with English as their mother tongue. It would be nice to discuss this issue on a European platform. I'm sure that most people with English as a second language are proud of their abilities and do want to practice it. But in most cases the level of communication is relatively poor. As a result I think that people need to cultivate their own mother tongue first and may additionally try to communicate in a second language as well as possible. This second language may be French or Spanish or German or English or what else. We should not focus on English too much.
    Fritz Matthaeus, Nuertingen, Germany

    Regardless of which language eventually 'wins', surely it's a good idea for everyone to be fluent in at least 2 languages - their native tongue and one other - regardless of whether their first is English? (Which English? British or US version? Have you recently tried to get an office software package that has UK English as the default option?
    Iain Robertson, Edinburgh, UK

    I think it's a good idea to use English as an international language

    Vera, St Petersburg
    I think that it's a good idea to use English as an international language. Then there wouldn't be any boundaries in receiving information. That's the crucial point for Russians. There aren't enough information supplies. All is censured and I don't think it's good. So, if you want to receive more, you must learn as many languages as you can. But English will be a basic one. It's the only way to be protected, I think.
    Vera, Saint Petersburg

    The French have a deep psychological problem with the already very real domination of the English language. Just look at the wording of Le Monde: "a perfidious British plot". This is propaganda from the French media, but look at who screams the loudest: the French and the Germans, ie those who want to dominate the EU. Their crusade isn't about protecting small languages, but about imposing their own.
    Edward Christie, Geneva, Switzerland

    I believe having a common language (I'm not going to comment on whether it should be English, French or any of the European languages) in an institution like the EU would facilitate communication and avoid misunderstandings. It is important, however, not to suppress or undervalue other languages. Languages are the mirror of our cultures and they reflect our diversity. Living in such a cosmopolitan city as London has broadened my mind and made me realise one thing: the world is beautiful because it is varied.
    Sonia De Blasis, London, UK/Italian nationality

    It's not the Brits or the Americans who are to blame

    Vladimir, Ukraine/Russia
    It's not the Brits or the Americans who are to blame. We (non-native English speakers) are the ones who use English as a lingua franca. Due to historical and economic circumstances, it happened to be English. It just as well could have been Spanish, German, Russian, Chinese, or Swahili, but it's English that's assumed this role, and let's live with it.
    Vladimir, Ukraine/Russia

    "Who really wants to live in a world of 3000 languages?" I do for one.
    Pete B, Thatcham, UK

    I think people should speak only two languages. One their mother tongue and the other English.
    Shahid Ahmed Soomro, Shikarpur, Pakistan

    Chinese is the most spoken language in the world spoken by 885 million people, followed by Spanish which is spoken by 332 million people. Why don't they complain about these?
    Jay Young, Coventry, England

    The EU has 15 members, 11 official languages and rising possibly to 23. The 4000 translators cost 40% of the EU admin budget. The UN has 189 members, 6 official languages Arabic; English; French; Mandarin; Russian and Spanish. They publish all documents in just 2 languages: English and French. If the EU can't resolve their language problem which has obvious strong multicultural aspects what hope for pragmatic solutions to real EU problems most of which also have multicultural aspects?
    Rob, Derbyshire, England

    I am a German living in Canada and therefore totally immersed into an English speaking environment. While I think that there is a tangible economic advantage to not translating documents under the premise that English is understood by 'everyone' (a bit blue-eyed in my view), we should ask ourselves if we are really ready to streamline everything in Europe for economical reasons.
    Ralf Mueller, Canada

    To prevent the dominance of the English language is quite impossible

    Gerber Ruth, Switzerland
    In my opinion English Is the most spoken language in the world. To prevent the dominance of the English language is quite impossible. I think that EU documents should be written in English but the possibility to get them in another language must be given.
    Gerber Ruth, Thun, Switzerland

    I'm quite amazed at certain comments! Being French and having lived in the UK and Spain, I consider myself European, speaking 4 of its languages (French, English, Spanish and German) and yes I'm a normal person, not super-gifted as some of my English native speaker friends think. I believe that every country has the right to read a text in its own language in order to avoid misinterpretation. Having studied translation, I know that some ideas are "untranslatable" for reasons of culture most of the time.

    Besides, long before the entering of the UK into the EU, a single language called Esperanto was trying to emerge as being the real "mixed language" for Europe. Where it is nowadays? Hardly anyone speaks it! Single currency? OK. Single language? No. We need our cultural differences, our nation's identity to express ourselves. Tolerance, please!
    Alex Vienne, New Zealand (French expat)

    Hmm. Originating from Ireland I can tell you all that losing your indigenous language kills your culture. When Ireland was swallowed up by Britain the Irish were put into an English-speaking school system. Result? The Irish language was 99% destroyed. And what is Irish culture now? Advertisements for Guiness. Lose your language = lose your soul. I am always being told that if it wasn't for the British I'd be speaking German. Well, if it wasn't for the British I'd be speaking Irish.
    Brian O'Nolan, UK

    Never write off another language

    EM Needle, England(German)
    Never write off another language.Voltaire scoffed at English as not worthy to be studied and Newton and his European contemporaries all wrote their works in Latin. I don't think English will retain its dominance beyond another 100 years. In my opinion Spanish will take over, as many areas in the states in America such as Texas and California already use it as their first language and, after all, the new President visited Spain first after his election.
    EM Needle, England but German

    English is the greatest, richest language in the world. In fact,it ought to be the only language in the world. There might be less conflict and misunderstandings if we could all communicate in the same tongue. The French are just jealous (as always)
    Oliver Hanson, UK

    I do find it ironic seeing the English getting worked up about the French, Germans or whoever telling them what language to use, when they have been doing the same within their own Union for the last 800 years or more.
    Aaron Thomas, Wales

    If not English, does anyone have a better suggestion for one International Language?

    Amjad Deen, Czech Republic
    The prospect of joing the EU for this country is very visible in the local community. So is the urge to learn English, which is the only way to a better communication level between communities not necessarily influencing one's existence. If not English, does anyone have a better suggestion for one International Language which most humans can speak ?
    Amjad Deen, Prague, Czech Republic

    Language - any language - is a living thing. It has a dynamic of its own, and there are many cases throughout history that show how enforcement of a particular language only lasts until the enforcer's back is turned. A case in point is Welsh. Surely few in Wales would see the sense in bringing back Welsh as the main official language, but its strong rise in popularity over the last generation shows that there is still vibrant life left in it.

    I work as a translator of EU-related texts (Finnish-English)and cannot see that the Finns - who so valiantly fought for independence in the early 1900's - would ever give up their own language. Instead they learn English (and speak it better than many who call it their mother tongue) or any other language that may be necessary in business, politics, education or culture. Forget the arguments; what lives or dies in the world of communication is up to those involved in the day-to-day process of getting on together in a multi-lingual world.
    Louise, Finland

    It is the survival of good English we need to worry about

    Lawrence, The Netherlands
    I am a Brit who has lived in Holland for 5 years and learned Dutch to find gainful employment as a translator of legal texts from Dutch into English. What worries me, is not that the English language will eventually reign supreme in Europe, but that it will be used (and is being used) by so many Europeans as a second language, and so imperfectly, that it is being dumbed down to levels I find depressingly low. Even at the highest level in commerce and amongst the professions in Holland, the standard they seem happy to try and produce themselves is embarrassingly poor. It is the survival of good English we need to worry about, as well as, if not more than, the survival of other European languages.
    Lawrence, The Netherlands

    Make everyone speak Latin - truly the mother tongue.
    Tom K, UK

    As a former TEFL teacher in the Czech Republic, English was the dominant foreign language with German a poor second and French nowhere. If we are to expand the EU and we are all to communicate English is the best option. This might not satisfy the Germans or French, but frankly being part of the EU seems to mean making compromises and fudges, so for once they will have to accept this one.
    Nick, UK

    English is undoubtedly the only universal language right now thanks to the United States of America though this may not continue because Spanish could take its role sooner rather than later. This may seem preposterous to some but evidence shows that this is the way things are going in the States.
    Jorge, Spain

    In the end it may be our downfall

    Chris, Switzerland
    Working for an international European bank, all meetings are attempted in the local language. If there is even one person in the meeting that does not speak the local language the entire meeting must be held in English. In fact most other business is conducted in English here. English is also required learning for all pilots both public and private. Even private aircraft in Europe must speak to other private aircraft in English, not in the local language. In the end it may be our downfall. We rarely take up studies in a foreign language as English speakers in contrast with those in Europe do not get out of school without it. We head off to Europe with our broken German or French hoping everyone will speak English with little consideration for the locals and smaller chances at bigger gains. No wonder when Europeans come to the UK they get really good jobs due to their high fluency in English as well as having a very desirable 2 or 3rd European language. I speak English, German and French.
    Chris, Switzerland

    English readers should make allowances for Mr Fischer, the German foreign minister. He didn't go to university, but he makes efforts with his English. I wonder how many UK politicians including Neil, are able to use German. The last one that I can remember is Dennis Healey, and that was some time ago. Instead of making such proposals, perhaps Neil should look at foreign language education in UK comps. It would be interesting to know how many Labour MPs are competent at all in foreign languages.
    Dr John Insley, Germany

    As a professional engineer who has spent the last 6 years working abroad all over Europe I can only say that the Brits are an arrogant bunch of people who expect everyone else to speak English. However, generally speaking we make no effort whatsoever to even master a few simple phrases and it is this arrogance which I truly believe gets up our European counterparts' noses.
    Dave Anderson, Sweden/UK

    The idea is to cut down on translation of working documents inside the European Commission

    Steve Morris, Official Spokesman for Neil Kinnock
    Let me clarify exactly what is being proposed: The idea is to cut down on translation of working documents inside the European Commission. EC officials are all multi-lingual, and most of us can work happily on a document in either English or French, without needing a translation. So many documents don't need to be translated at all, and others can be translated only once, when the final draft is agreed. That is how we hope to make savings. However, once a legal text has been approved, people outside the Commission have a right to read it in their own language. That's a basic principle of the EU, and nobody is suggesting it should change. So most translations will still be done as they are today. Likewise, if people write to the Commission in French, German, Danish or Greek, they will continue to get an answer in their own language. The proposed changes would only affect us "eurocrats".
    Steve Morris, Official Spokesman for Neil Kinnock

    Oh my! if people really do think that "everyone in the world speaks English" they really do need to travel more!
    Chris, Birmingham, UK

    I don't see why French and German should vanish because of the legendary British inability to learn a second language

    Fabien, UK (France)
    If I remember well, English is derived from Germanic dialects, no matter what the Brits say about it. German and French have been existing for centuries and I don't really see why they should vanish all of a sudden because of the legendary British inability to learn a second language. I find it rather pathetic that certain people hide their ignorance and refusal to learn behind such a simple excuse.
    Fabien, UK (France)

    Throughout the past 400 years, the English (and later Americans too) have proved their contempt for cultural identities all over the world. Even in Britain, how many Englishmen speak Welsh, or Manx? This plan of Commissioner Kinnock is just a continuation of that imperialist attitude. Besides, translation costs can be reduced using modern speech software.
    Erwin Verbeken, Flanders, Belgium

    It is quite possible that in job and education related matters the question has already been answered - English is almost without doubt every European's native, 2nd or 3rd tongue - no offence meant to the minority constituting the exception. But I find this to be a transitory cultural phenomenon. As soon as Eastern Asia rules by the strength of its economy as the USA and the EU do now, some standard form of Chinese will emerge as a global language. Simplified from its current patterns no doubt - or the USA and EU would probably not take it in as its common 2nd language - but no less universal than Latin or English were in their time.
    João Yuan Valente, Macau, China

    Who really wants to live in a world of 3000 languages?

    Patrick Martin, N. Ireland
    Surely culture is how one lives one's life, not the system of vocal noise we make that is called language? Surely the more of us that speak one language promotes greater understanding and breaking down of barriers? Who really wants to live in a world of 3000 languages? This renders communication with most of our fellow men impossible. I don't care if it is English, German or Cantonese - the more of us who talk to one another, the better.
    Patrick Martin, N. Ireland

    A common language is an inevitable consequence of globalisation. This is already English, although we may therefore expect a few anarchists to start storming the White Cliffs of Dover. All Neil Kinnock was trying to do was save the EU taxpayer the unnecessary cost of translation. The irony is that this will make it more difficult for the Brits who will have to learn to read other languages. I think our French and German friends have rather shot themselves in the foot. Perhaps they should write more in their own languages rather than accepting the de facto dominance of English. We should also encourage our EU partners to join with us in making a European English that is spelt correctly and not in the US manner that we see all too frequently.
    John Logsdon, UK

    If French or German were proposed as the predominant sprache, would this outcry be as loud?

    Nick, Germany
    I currently work in Germany and have been embarrassed by the ability of Germans to speak in various languages. This is not confined to professional or educated people but widespread throughout the population. From early schooling, one or two languages are taught as mainstream courses and students understand the necessity to learn English as the international language of business and, increasingly, entertainment. It is not seen as the province of a single nation (Great Britain) nor is it a sign of not being proud to be German, but is seen as a pragmatic requirement for Germany and the individuals.

    Are the outcries of the Eurocrats simply jingoistic cries to appeal to their own electorates or do they represent the opinion and responsibilities of the European Union as a whole? Similarly, if French or German were proposed as the predominant sprache, would this outcry be as loud and seem so misplaced in the UK? Probably not.
    Nick, Germany

    I can only sit here sadly shaking my head at yet another EU bureaucratic nonsense

    John Gant, UK
    I am desperately trying to compose a meaningful contribution to this discussion, but can only sit here sadly shaking my head at yet another EU bureaucratic nonsense and waste of money.
    John Gant, UK

    Well, the problem is that English is so much easier to learn than most other languages....
    Volker, England (ex Germany)

    We are fighting here in Wales to preserve our language (Cymraeg), which is being eroded because of the influence of English. Why? Because language is an integral part of culture, and we value our cultural identity. How awful if we were to create a world with only one language and only one culture! Let's celebrate our diversity. Translation costs are a small price to pay to preserve the richness of our cultural diversity.
    Jon, Cymru

    The one intelligent thing Kinnock has said or done in his entire life.
    Mark Hudson, Kent, UK

    Stop being so lazy!

    Joanna A, Spain
    I think that this act of laziness is wrong. I live in Spain where most English people just rely on the fact that someone will know English. Come on get real Neil. Everyone needs to know a second language. Stop being so lazy!
    Joanna A, Spain

    The French and Gerrman people might feel easier by the fact that it is not British English that has conquered Europe - it is American English. My ten year experience in Europe told me that very few French/German chaps like to speak British English. They like to drink Coca Cola while speaking in European-styled American accents. The United States of America conquered the United States of Europe a long time ago.
    John Y. P. Chang, China

    There are more people outsidide the UK who consider English their first language. Ironically, this non-UK English-speaking majority does not reside in the EU. In addition, the UK is a stronghold of anti-EU scepticism, which provides even less justification for English to become the EU's dominant language. Therefore, the importance of the language will eventually decline, especially after the EU expands its Eastern borders. Just wait 40-50 years.
    Yevgeni, Russia

    As English speakers we occupy a privileged position

    Louise, Japan
    Neil Kinnock's comments highlight a dilemma that the EU has faced since its inception and is similar to the linguistic problems (and costs) experienced in Kinnock's own country in the Welsh Assembly. For this reason I was surprised at his blinkered viewpoint. Financial constraints have to be put on the EU but to restrict people's rights to speak their own language restricts their willingness to talk. As English speakers we occupy a privileged position and should learn to be more understanding. Some things, like retaining diverse linguistic identities, are worth more than money.
    Louise, Japan

    While working in Korea I found that when Koreans dealt with the Japanese the common language was English. What do the Asians know that the EU doesn't besides making better cars and electronic equipment?
    Rob, USA

    Working in a multicultural environment is pretty tricky, I've been in one for nearly 8 years and really appreciate when I can read documents in my native tongue. Unless issues are fully understood, there is scope for mis-interpretation and the effect could cost more than saving the translation fee. This is the cost of being a union of diverse states and we have to accept that. If the tales are true, it sounds like that there could be more to be gained by saving money on travel and entertainment costs.
    Christopher Laird, Japan

    Why can't we agree that each document submitted by every national delegation be in its national language AND in Latin! Latin is a 'dead' language (so no national-linguistic problems here), is spoken by quite a few people in our continent and it forms the basis of many (if not most) current official EU languages. It would further revitalise the study of classics - not a bad thing after all.
    Iosif Botetzagias, Greece

    It's the next logical step - and it must be English

    Tony Questa, UK
    If a single monetary currency is so important for European integration, efficiency etc, then a single European language must be even more important. It's the next logical step, it must happen - and it must be English.
    Tony Questa, UK

    Everyone's second language in Europe is naturally English for a variety of reasons - eg trade with USA, international conventions for flying etc. However what is the second language for us poor Brits ? We can't learn them all. Our current form of English is a pretty good mix of Roman Latin, William the Conqueror's French and Saxon German plus a lot of Greek for good measure. It's a truly international language. However I believe the 'Global Village' is gradually standardising on 4 languages at the moment including Chinese, Spanish and Arabic. So EC readers take your pick. Which one of the Global Languages do you think will win out in the end?
    Anthony, England

    Hans Westin, Holland
    "Being bilingual is good for you"
    Jacob Addison
    "English is the working language of the world"
    Jorge Pausas, Barcelona, Spain
    "Chinese could take over as the dominant language"
    Ken Simmonds, South Africa
    "Different languages are horribly socially divisive"
    Gary Rostock, Czech Republic
    "Young people across Europe can connect through the english lanuage"
    Igor Kalinin, Ukraine
    "Esperanto would be a better choice"
    John Chang
    "American english is dominant"
    Michael Russell, UK
    "English is made up of foreign words"
    See also:

    14 Aug 01 | UK Politics
    EU translation plan provokes protest
    13 Apr 00 | UK Politics
    Prodi plot 'rubbish' says Kinnock
    Internet links:

    The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

    Links to more Talking Point stories