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Multilingualism | English as the common ground

Brussels is a multilingual place. It is common to call it the ‘EU Bubble’ because most of all the European Union’s organizations are based here. But not only you find European citizens all around the city, you also find people of all over the world here. It’s just amazing! Everyday, walking by, you listen to so many languages in the most simple conversations. Multilingualism is a reality. But where do we find a common ground?

I came to Brussels to take part of a Translation Traineeship in the Directorate-General for Translation of the European Commission. Translation is crucial in such a multilingual place – the EU has 24 official languages – and documents, communications and laws must be translated from and into the official language of each Member State. Quite a challenge, don’t you think? But, as a translator, in my humble opinion, that’s the beauty of the European Union – each country is different, each language is unique, but all become one. As Alexandre Dumas wrote in The Three Musketeers ‘All for one and one for all, united we stand divided we fall’ (at least it should be like that…)

So, what about the common ground? English, of course. Let us forget the Brexit issue. English is the common working language. Not only here in Brussels, but all over the world. If you want to go to another country, whether on vacation, business or studying, I’m pretty sure you’ll need English.

English has become a lingua franca, meaning that is used to make communication possible between people who do not share a native language or dialect, particularly when it is a third language that is distinct from the native languages involved. That’s why I believe English will always be present and will always be necessary. We should study it, practise it, and we are already exposed to it every day. But we are not native speakers of English and this shouldn’t be an issue.

A fellow translator sent me this article by BBC and I completely agree:

‘”With non-native English speakers now vastly outnumbering native speakers, it’s up to the latter to be more adaptable”, says Neil Shaw, intercultural fluency lead at the British Council, the UK’s international educational and cultural body. About 1.75 billion people worldwide speak English at a useful level, and by 2020 it’s expected to be two billion, according to the British Council.’

And…

‘”Mother-tongue English may not even be an advantage anymore”, says Dr Dominic Watt, sociolinguistics expert at the University of York in the UK.

“It’s not necessarily in your interests to be a native speaker of English because you haven’t had to go through the same learning process that the non-natives have. So they’re all on the same page and it’s the native speakers who are the odd ones out,” Watt says.

At the European Parliament, for instance, non-native speakers complain to the Anglophones, “Can’t you just speak English like the rest of us do?!”, says Watt. “The power balance has shifted a bit by sheer virtue of numbers.”

“Gradually, native speakers are realising that something is wrong with the way they’re communicating”, says Cathy Wellings, director of the London School of International Communication in the UK.’

You can read the whole article here:

http://www.bbc.com/capital/story/20161215-you-need-to-go-back-to-school-to-relearn-english

So, let us not be afraid of English, let us embrace it in our lives because it is necessary.

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