I recall a conversation I had with my English lecturer during my time (many years ago) at university. I questioned him as to why so many people around the world are bilingual, yet in the United Kingdom a large percentage of the population only speak English.
His answer was quite simple, “English is the financial language of the world.”
A Matter of Necessity
He then went on to elaborate, because the United States had grown into the world’s largest economy, it had necessitated students in schools around the globe being taught English as a second language.
Rather than laziness on the part of English speakers, it was more a matter of necessity that led so many non-English native speakers to learn the language.
With the US being such a global financial powerhouse, there was no need for native English speakers to learn another language unless they were planning on emigrating, or spending a lot of time in another country. In the UK, students are normally taught French, German or Spanish, but they don’t start learning until they are in secondary school – whereas other countries begin learning English from the start of formal education.
Mandarin or Hindi?
The question must therefore be asked – how long before the balance of financial power shifts?
China’s economy is predicted by experts to have surpassed the US by 2018, with some economists believing GDP in India will do the same by 2050. Former UK Prime Minister, David Cameron famously gave a speech in which he suggested British children should be learning Mandarin instead of French.
“I want Britain linked up to the world’s fast-growing economies. And that includes our young people learning the languages to seal tomorrow’s business deals. By the time the children born today leave school, China is set to be the world’s largest economy. So, it’s time to look beyond the traditional focus on French and German and get many more children learning Mandarin.”
Should UK students therefore be reaching for the text books and learning Mandarin, or even Hindi, so they don’t get left behind in the business landscape of the future?
Years of Commitment
However, anyone who decides they are going to take the plunge and begin learning Mandarin, may want to clear their schedule for some months.
Many regard it as one of the toughest languages in the world to learn and can take even the most committed student a great deal of time to master conversational Mandarin – never mind learning to speak it fluently. Mandarin is a tonal language, meaning phonetically identical words can have five entirely different meanings, depending on the pitch at which they’re produced.
What’s more, if a student intends to learn Mandarin as an aid to working in the financial industry, then it’s even more crucial to master the subject before filling out an application form – as a linguistic error could easily turn into a costly financial mistake.
If you need specialist and professional translation and interpretation services for your financial or legal business, our team of dedicated experts here at Magna Carta are here to make sure the right message gets across – enabling you to trade in Asia as easily as you do in the West.
At least until you’ve mastered the language for yourself.