Is the English language really losing importance in Europe?

12th May 2017

In a recent speech given by Jean-Claude Juncker at the EU State of the Union summit in Florence, he stated that he would deliver his speech in French. The reasons being, in part, because the French elections were taking place a few days later and that Mr Juncker wanted the people of France to understand what he had to say, and also because he felt that ‘‘slowly but surely English is losing importance in Europe.”

Whilst his comment is no doubt in reference to the less that perfect Brexit negotiations that are taking place, is there any truth in what he says? Is the English language really losing importance in Europe?

What countries speak English in Europe?

According to the Special Euro Barometer 386 “Europeans and their Languages” report “In accordance with the EU population, the most widely spoken mother tongue is German (16%), followed by Italian and English (13% each), French (12%), then Spanish and Polish (8% each).”

However, as Wikipedia confirms, while German is the most widely used mother tongue, the most widely spoken language in the EU is, in fact, English, which is understood by 51% of all adults. In practice, only two – English and French – are in wide general use and of these English is the more commonly used.

Given the wide use of English across Europe, is it fair to simply dismiss Mr Junker’s comment as the usual EU brinkmanship or could it have merit? There seems to be some confusion as to whether English will remain the official language of the EU after Brexit, with some news outlets confirming that it will, while others report ‘senior officials’ confirming that it won’t. While up until recently, MEPs preferred to use English during parliamentary debates but with a combination of carrot and stick, one can imagine this easily changing to French or German.

One thing that is fairly certain though, once the UK leaves the EU in 2019, the English language will lose both its importance and influence at the higher levels of European business and politics. English language films, music and tourism, etc will no doubt keep the English language alive culturally but UK based companies will need to add professional translation to the growing list of demands and obligations being made by Europe in order to do business with the single market.

Regardless of whether the Brexit negations are considered a success or not, there are a number of indicators that suggest that now, more than ever, is the time for UK based companies to look at professional translation as part of everyday business in order to forge better relationships with both clients and suppliers.

Foreign Tongues has been providing professional translation services to businesses for more than twenty years. Our experienced project managers and linguists can help you and your company overcome the language barriers to Europe.

Contact us now for The 20 Minute Quote and one of our project managers will help guide you through the planning of your next international project.

Sign up to our newsletter