The UK should be ‘forced’ to give Europe the English language after Brexit, former Italian prime minister Mario Monti has said. Monti, who is also a former EU commissioner, declared that English is ‘one of the very best products of Britain’ and that it should continue to be the main language of Europe. However, he also said that Europe should ‘upgrade’ English after the UK’s departure from the EU to increase its competitiveness on the world stage. The importance of English in international trade is obvious – so could this be Britain’s secret weapon post-Brexit?
Aggressive Language from Mario Monti
Monti’s comment about increasing Europe’s competitiveness on the world stage indicates that he wants the EU to not only complete with but dominate over the UK in global trade.
His use of the word ‘force’ also implies aggression and dominance, which is deeply unhelpful language as we look to forge a positive and constructive relationship between the UK and the EU, post Brexit.
The former Italian prime minister appears to be concerned that the English language will be Britain’s strength after Brexit, putting the UK in a potentially powerful position internationally. His language also indicates that he feels threatened by this on behalf of the EU.
A Backhanded Compliment
Indeed, the dominance of English in international trade certainly means the UK is at an advantage over Europe in doing business with other countries. This is why Monti wants to keep English as the language of the EU and ‘upgrade’ it to suit Europe’s needs.
After these comment, British MP Peter Bone, a member of the Commons Brexit committee said: “I thank the former prime minister for recognising that English is the language of business and the international language. I think that’s supposed to be a compliment.”
The Language of Business
Across the world, 2 billion people speak English. Of those, about a quarter (500 million) are native English speakers, while the rest learn English as a foreign language.
There are actually more native Mandarin speakers than native English speakers, but 350 million of the Mandarin speakers are also learning English. In contrast, few native English speakers are learning Mandarin.
The importance of English in international trade was highlighted at a recent event aimed at foreign investors. When asked what they liked about doing business in Britain, the aspect upon which they all agreed was the use of English.
It seems it will be the English language that could keep the UK safe after Brexit. Most people in international business speak English and the world of commerce uses English as the universal method of communication.
It is not only the business world that relies on English. Science, medicine and the majority of communication on the internet also uses English as the lingua franca.
The Language of the Internet
Although the native English-speaking population of the world is outstripped by other languages, English dominates the internet.
Of the 10 million most visited websites, more than 50 per cent are in English.
The most-used language on the internet is also English: 952 million users have English as their main language online. The next most widely-used is Chinese (763 million users), followed by Spanish (293 million users).
The importance of English in international trade is matched by its importance as a language of communication across the internet.
It is true that linguistically, Britain is far behind many European nations, such as Holland, Finland and France. Many believe Britain’s lack of ability in foreign languages is a weakness and it certainly can be.
However, Britain does excel in the world’s most common second language: English.
One main weakness in this lack of diversity in language ability is the appearance of arrogance. Business partners would respect and like Britain more if we addressed them in their first language during trade negotiations, rather than rely on them to become proficient in English.
The best answer is surely for Britain to continue nurturing its native English language, but also to make more effort to learn other languages.
This would maintain the UK’s strong linguistic position, while also showing respect to other nations and improving our education and cultural sensitivity.
English in International Trade
International trade negotiations use English much of the time as the lingua franca. It is true that Britain will deal with America, Canada and Australia post Brexit, but Britain will also need to speak with countries, where English is not the native language. These discussions will certainly also be in English as the common language.
The EU knows it will be expected to also often need to use English in international trade. This is why Britain has an advantage on the international stage and why Mario Monti is keen to keep English as the language of Europe.
He says that the EU should ‘upgrade’ English, although he never mentioned how. It could be the case that he wants to use Globish – a simplified version of English using basic vocabulary and grammar rules.
This use of Globish could work well internationally, though not so well with native English speakers and the international powers of the USA, Australia and Canada.
Although there are other UK products that are valued, such as British humour, perhaps English is Britain’s greatest natural resource – and its greatest export.
Post-Brexit, it seems the English language could be the most important product on the international business stage.
Share your thoughts on English in international trade
Is the English language Britain’s secret weapon post-Brexit?
Do you agree with Mario Monti – is the English language Britain’s best product?
Should other countries always use English for trade talks?
How would you ‘upgrade’ the English language?
What do you think about the expression Monti used in saying Britain should be ‘forced’ to give the English language to the EU?
Will keeping the English language allow the EU to dominate over the UK in global trade after Brexit?