Business is more global than ever before, especially as more of the world connects to the Internet. But while only five percent of the world's population speaks English as its native tongue, over half of all Web content is in English. And an extensive analysis by MIT Media Lab of 2.2 million books in 1,000 languages, tweets from 17 million users across 73 languages, and millions of Wikipedia entries found that most media is in English or being translated into English. César Hidalgo, the project's lead researcher, says English functions as a connector for people who speak different languages.
But English isn't just connecting people on social media sites and education--it is a global business broker. "Of the many languages that have ever been spoken, only a few of them have been able to achieve global prominence, they have been important enough to become a global language," Hidalgo told Serious Science.
Bill Fisher, a co-founder of online English language school EF Englishtown, writes in Harvard Business Review that the predictions of Mandarin becoming the dominant global tongue are incorrect, in part due to simple issues of practicality. "Standard QWERTY keyboards are designed for the Roman alphabet and can't accommodate the 2,000 Chinese characters considered necessary to achieve even basic literacy in Mandarin," he writes.
But it goes further than just a keyboard. English cuts to the core of the computer's commands. Fisher says the top 10 programming languages are all based in English. Python and Ruby, which are among the top 10, were created by native Dutch and Japanese speakers, respectively. Fisher says this fact illustrates that "nonnative English speakers adapt to learn and use English when trying to accomplish broad goals."
As for people actively learning how to speak English, there are an estimated 1.5 billion English-language learners today, a number that is expected to grow to 2 billion within 10 years, NPR reports. Large global companies including Airbus, Daimler-Chrysler, Microsoft Beijing, Nokia, Renault, and Samsung have all mandated English as their corporate language, writes Tsedal Neeley, Harvard Business School professor, in the May 2012 issue of HBR. Japanese Internet services company Rakuten's CEO Hiroshi Mikitani told CNN in 2010 that the company is not speaking Japanese in its offices: "English is the only global language," Mikitani said. "We're doing a global business. I think this is the only way a Japanese service organization can become a global organization."
English has emerged as a collaborative language, especially in the business world. If you have a global team, they will most likely need to come together and speak English, Neeley told CNN: "It depends on what the company does, but if you'll have members in different countries needing to collaborate--whether it's to integrate technology platforms or cater to customers worldwide--it will become more important that even middle managers and employees with international assignments will need a common language in order to interface with others."
What if your company doesn't know how to speak English? A survey by The Economist Intelligence Unit found 90 percent of global corporate executives agreed if "cross-border communication" improved, the company's profits and market share would significantly increase. On the other hand, it doesn't take a lot to lose business. Almost half of all survey respondents said that minor misunderstandings could kill international business deals.
"What does this all mean? English facilitates the innovation economy because it allows individuals and companies around the world to communicate, and therefore collaborate toward a common vision or goal," Fisher writes in HBR. "Imagine if Yahoo's founder, Jerry Yang, never learned more than 'shoe.' Or if Mike Krieger, Sao Paulo native and founder of Instagram, never learned English to attend college in the U.S.? Going back a few years, a man named Andy Grove, a native of Hungary, escaped WWII and went on to found Intel. What if language barriers stood in the way of these technologies?"