A voice for Multilingualism


Why Europe’s linguistic diversity should be preserved

European Day of Languages

Wednesday the  26th September will be the European Day of Languages. It is going to be another celebration of the rich linguistic landscape Europe has to offer. However, critics argue that multilingualism is a luxury and that all the translation work that is done (for example in the European institutions) is a waste of time and money. They would rather see enterprises and political institutions connected through one single language: English. You may have already heard sentences like :

Why bother translating? Everybody speaks English nowadays.”

Over the past decades, people have always criticised the amount of money spent on translation and other related services. However, one cannot deny that in a globalised world languages have become an essential part of business communications. The internet has made communications across borders easier and faster, and and as the world is getting smaller and more globalised, language issues are of increasing relevance to everyone in business.

Applicants to new jobs often have to master at least two foreign languages in addition to their native language, and Universities have adapted to this by offering business courses that include language acquisition. But even the most talented young professionals cannot speak the language of every single country that multinational enterprises work with. Therefore it has become an everyday practice for companies to make use of the services offered by Language Service Companies. Professional Language Services include translating texts as well as assisting in online marketing issues, and improving international business dealings with the help of professional interpreters.

Even though one could get the impression that most of the world’s online population speaks English nowadays, research gives us a rather different result: 65% of the online population does not speak English, and the number of Chinese speakers using the internet is growing. By translating your webpage into languages such as Chinese, Japanese, Portuguese, German, French, Spanish, Arabic and Russian you can reach more than 75% of the internet users.

The language issue is not only a question of successful business – languages are part of our cultural heritage. There are between 6,000 and 7,000 languages spoken on this planet. The African continent alone serves as a home to approximately 2,000 languages. But without support from international organisations like the UNESCO about half of the languages spoken today will have disappeared by the end of this century.

Therefore, in 2001, the Council of Europe decided to host the European Day of Languages every year on September 2006, to promote a multilingual society and celebrate linguistic diversity. On this day, a large number of events will be hosted throughout Europe, i.e. film evenings where movies from different countries are shown or language cafés where specialities from around the world will be served. Everyone is free to participate and it is a great occasion to point out that we can be proud of the large variety of languages this world has to offer, so the critics mentioned at the beginning might be falling silent someday.

Translation is one way to achieve a greater intercultural understanding and overcome existing barriers. 


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