Spreek je engels? Ja, natuurlijk

As reported recently in I Am Expat, The Netherlands ranks second IN THE WORLD for English speakers in non-English speaking countries. 

How cool is that?!

The longer I live abroad, the more I travel, the greater effort I put into trying to learn foreign languages, I have to tell you: this is seriously wonderful recognition.

It seems only the top five countries fell into the ‘Very High Proficiency’ category: Norway, The Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, Finland.

Interesting that the list is compiled of the four Scandinavian countries and Nederland.

Two of the four countries that fall into the ‘High Proficiency’ category are also neighbors of The Netherlands: Austria, Belgium, Germany, Malaysia.

Now for English speakers, I know you may be thinking ‘Well, they’re speaking English so I don’t have to learn other languages’. The truth is, it’s that kind of laziness (sorry, I have to call it as I see it here) that I feel will cause English monolinguists to fall behind in terms of competition for global jobs in the years ahead.

Sure, I get that others speaking English is some sort of acknowledgement that the world does well with a ‘global language’. And it’s no longer French (the primary diplomatic language of several centuries).

But think about it.

Years ago an English speaker could travel to just about any country imaginable, and find work. Many started by teaching English as a foreign language. The demand was there, so many people wanting to learn English. Often the English speakers would then work their way into other fields (e.g., marketing, sales, retail, banking, teaching, etc.).

Nowadays English speaking travelers can still fall back on teaching English in many countries. But in places such as western Europe, the demand has taken a dive unless you are fully credentialed. Why? Because so many people speak English.

When I look at the jobs being advertised here in The Netherlands, many require multiple languages. For example, someone applying for a marketing job here in The Netherlands, with a German company, focusing on a client portfolio in Finland might be required to know Dutch, German, English and Finnish and/or Swedish (both are official languages in Finland).

Okay, not every job requires that you know 5 languages, but there are many that require a minimum of two (Dutch and English) or three (Dutch, English and another language depending on the company or clientele).

I realize that the way it is in The Netherlands isn’t automatically the same elsewhere. But the point is this: there are a LOT of people out there, learning multiple languages, who are looking to compete for jobs in many fields.

If Paul or Polly Polylinguist has the educational credentials and work experience, and is able to switch fluidly (and fluently) from one language to another, how do you think Mike or Molly Monolinguist is going to fare?

Looking into the future, I’m worried that a two-tiered system will be the norm: one in which a monolinguist will be excluded from a wide range of jobs, even if the person works primarily in their ‘home’ country, solely because they won’t have the fuller skill set possessed by others.

So congratulations to The Netherlands and the other non-English speaking countries on the list of English proficiency. This recognition is well earned. I just hope the rest of us read between the lines and learn from this.




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