eu flag biz 88.
(photo credit: )
A joint declaration on multilingualism was signed last week between the EU and the Indian government. With this declaration the European Commission and the Indian government aim to reinforce their cooperation and dialogue on key issues, including linguistic diversity and intercultural dialogue; the impact of languages on employability, business competitiveness and social cohesion; lifelong language learning; new technologies for language learning; and terminology.
The joint declaration is a follow-up to the EU-India Summit in Marseilles on 29 September 2008, where EU and Indian leaders committed themselves to developing a dialogue on the promotion of languages, intercultural dialogue and multilingualism. The first step towards this dialogue was made in December 2008 with the conference on "Multilingualism and Cultural Dialogue in Globalization" that took place in New Delhi, India, in the context of the 2008 European Year of Intercultural Dialogue.
With a population of approximately 1.1 billion people, India represents a unique example of ethnic, socio-cultural and religious diversity that brings with it a very rich linguistic diversity. According to the 2001 Census Report, there are 29 languages spoken by more than a million native speakers, 122 languages with at least 10,000 speakers and another 234 languages spoken by a smaller number.
The Indian Constitution declares Hindi to be the official language of the union. English may be used for official purposes and the country has 22 official regional languages. This rich linguistic diversity has been a fact of life throughout India's history and it is considered locally to be quite natural.
The EU recognizes 23 official languages, while the Indian Constitution's Eighth Schedule lists 22, out of which 15 rank among the world's top most spoken, with over 20 million speakers each. Of course, in each case, these are the tip, albeit a large tip, of the iceberg, in terms of languages spoken in India and Europe.
Speaking at the abovementioned conference on "Multilingualism and Intercultural Dialogue in Globalization" in New Delhi, David Green, a board member of the Royal Court Theatre, said that in London alone over three hundred languages are spoken. David Graddol, an eminent applied linguist, argues in his book "English First", that people who speak only English will be at a growing disadvantage over those who speak English alongside another or other languages. Therefore, knowing a local language and understanding the culture may put a businessman in a stronger position to clinch that business deal he seeks on the international level.
Only a third of UK graduates, argues Green, are confident enough to go abroad to work, compared to two thirds of their counterparts in other European countries. What this means is that UK graduates are not gaining the international experience to bring back to employers in the UK nor are they enriching their skills base. Recent research into recruitment policies of large multinational and international companies shows that UK nationals are effectively disadvantaged due to their lack of language skills.
More and more it is the case that global companies expect their cadres of senior and aspiring senior managers to have strong language skills and to be able to think in international terms. Language study is a pre-requisite for a deeper understanding of culture and hence good business. International organizations and business which do not take this seriously inevitably operate at a much more superficial level. Learning another language obliges one to examine own cultural identity, assumptions, expectations and recognizing that the person you are trying to communicate with comes to the conversation with a different range of experience and expectations.
The author is head of the International Department at GSCB Law Firm.