Juncker may mock, but the English language is a trump card for global traders

Juncker may mock, but the English language is a trump card for global traders

On Friday, European Commission President, Jean-Claude Juncker, told an audience (speaking in French, of course) that English is “losing importance.” Sacré bleu!

Mr Juncker seems to be making it his raison d’être to fashion himself as a Brexit-bashing enfant terrible. However, is his latest little bon mot true? Au contraire!

The coup de grâce against this claim comes, rather ironically, from the EU’s own figures. Rather a faux pas

Anyway, that’s probably more than enough French, so let’s turn to the figures. When the EU polled nearly 25,000 EU citizens across the EU27, it found that English is the most widely spoken second language in almost every country in Continental Europe. Only in the Baltics, Slovakia, Slovenia and Luxembourg is this not the case, with English coming third in all but the latter. Jakub Marian has done some excellent maps illustrating this which are available here.

What’s more, the EU also asked what second language citizens thought would be “most useful for their personal development” and, crucially, “most useful for children to learn for their future.” English scored 67% and 79% respectively. In Italy, where Mr Juncker made his remarks, the figures were 70% and 84%.

So while Mr Juncker may have carte blanche (sorry!) to make any claims he wishes, this one is just not backed up by the facts.

However, even if it were the case in Europe, it would not alter the fact that our language is one of our greatest advantages as we step into the global trade scene once more. Almost 2 billion people speak English to a reasonable level – nearly a quarter of humanity. Those who speak it as a first language make up an estimated 29.3% of global GDP.

Obviously, many of those with English as a mother tongue are in countries which are former British colonies, but it is increasingly the case in many huge target markets without such a link. YouGov found that 68% of Chinese citizens wished to learn the language while The Economist found that 86% of Chinese executives polled expect that 50% of their employees will need to know English if their companies are to make a success of their international plans.

It’s the language of so much of the world and particularly of business. Ipsos-Mori found that 67% of global employees “who say they work in a job that requires them to interact with people from other countries indicate the language used most often in those interactions is English.” This is particularly noticeable in companies including Nokia, SAP, Heineken, Rakuten, Samsung, Renault and Lenovo who are adopting English as a single corporate language across their global operations.

This is not just a convenient thing for Brits lazily wanting to avoid learning a language. Studies show that two countries which share a common tongue trade 42% more with each other than two identical nations that lack the same bond. As we start to negotiate and sign trade deals, it will be one of our strongest cards and should guide our priorities.

Mr Juncker is of course free to keep speaking French but, at least for business, the rest of the world will be saying vive la difference!