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Should English Be The Only Official Language Worldwide?

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6’500 languages spoken in 195 countries. Yet in every continent there is a large abundance of people that speak English at work, listen to English songs, watch English movies and are greatly dependent on the language. So why not make it official? Pretty much everyone already speaks it and it would be so much easier if we could all just communicate with each other, no matter where we come from. Growing up in a bilingual environment, this is how I thought about the topic. My parents spoke English at work, and everything that seemed important to me (movies, books, friends, music…) was being handled in English. Yet as I grew up and developed a different opinion on the topic, I realized that many of the problems I had faced in my childhood can also be attributed to the struggles of a new language. Therefore, when considering the big picture, I realize that ‘one official language’ is definitely not the easy way out. While many may now start hypothesizing about the effects of a universal language, we often forget, that it is already happening! Although on a smaller scale, states like Catalonia and Kurdistan are having to feel the struggle of a foreign language every day. They are fighting for their own identity as a nation, language being a large part of that identity. For example when the Kurdish language was restricted by Turkish authorities, and the Kurdish institute in Istanbul (an association that promoted the language) was shut down in 2016, this caused a lot of frustration and disappointment among the people. They want their own language and identity, and will resist anything that wants to take this away from them.

Even growing up as a German, I had to learn English in order to be able to communicate with my peers at the international school that I attended. Why doesn’t everyone learn my language? I asked myself. Why do I need to be the one to make this sacrifice? As long as this competition between languages exists, there is no way that one of these 6’500 can just win over all the rest. And even if our world would come to the decision to establish one worldwide language, the problems don’t stop there. English is currently being spoken by 1.5 billion people, yet only 360 million are native speakers. As a contrast, there are over 1.1 billion native Mandarin speakers. Looking back, I didn’t realize my ignorance in saying that it would be easier if everyone spoke English; the almost 6 billion people that are not native English speakers will need to learn the language.

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Becoming fluent in a language takes time, money and energy. Especially a language such as English which many find hard to learn because of exceptions, difficult pronunciations, etc. Therefore, during the ‘transition period’ in which we must all adjust to the new language, native English speakers will have a huge advantage in the work world. Consider this analogy to understand the situation of foreigners: currently, a big topic in the media is the sexism that women have to face in their career. They feel that they are at a disadvantage as their performance and accomplishments need to be stronger than a man’s in order to earn the same opportunities. This unfair treatment causes great frustration and is a big scandal in the job industry. No matter where you stand on today’s issue, you will probably agree with me when I say that this kind of treatment is not acceptable and action needs to be taken upon it. Yet this same type of barrier will be set up between native speakers and those that are still learning the language. No matter how much knowledge they possess, they will always be at a disadvantage, which is attributed to something that society has put onto them.

Lastly, the most important thing that identifies humans as a species is individuality. An official worldwide language would create a great social homogeneity. I am not able to give up the very things that make me different to my peers at school. History and culture are both intertwined with the knowledge of your own language. Imagine that in a few decades, a Chinese kid would no longer be able to speak Mandarin. When looking at paintings or letters written by their ancestors, they will not be able to understand what is written. It is also for example much less relevant for Indian students to study Shakespeare in their English class than it is to read plays and poetry by the famous author Kalida, who based many of his works around the Indian Puranas. If we do not stay educated about our history, it distances us from our roots and takes away the very thing that defines people as humans or a group as a nation.

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