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Speaking fluent English is more than just a language issue

English in the European UnionThe Financial Times in 2010 ran an article on ‘Why proper English rules OK‘ about the disproportionate advantage native English speakers enjoy against their non-native counterparts, also in the EU institutions.

Is it true? Yes.

Is it fair? No.

Does it need to be considered by those dealing with public affairs? Absolutely.


So why is the matter so serious?


The UK Independence Party’s Nigel Farage had often made scandalous but rhetorically excellent speeches which are super popular on YouTube (1.2 million views as of today) partly due to his native speaking skills. Most others who come from any of the EU’s 24 non-native English-speaking countries, i.e. those not from the UK, Ireland or Malta, are set at a certain disadvantage when it comes to Brussels conferences, media events or policy campaigns.


It’s a contradiction, in a certain way. The British government has been struggling to convince its citizens to apply for EU jobs in Brussels and Luxembourg, given the ever-decreasing percentage of UK officials. However, those who are “in” seem to be over-appreciated, partly given their “unique” linguistic background (read: native speakers). So it’s also an issue of unbalanced career prospects, with effects on internal European policy-making.


Then there is the key concern of English taking over all other languages: a reality that the EU, long-time champion of multilingualism, must face. If English is the most widely used second language in Europe, then Members of the European Parliament, industry lobbyists and NGO activists must aim to speak, write and communicate perfectly in Shakespeare’s language to ensure their message reaches the largest audience.


Sadly, while all European politicians speak fluent English, it does not equal to powerful English or effective English that would capture the hearts and minds of an international audience. It’s not enough to have the proper vocabulary and speak well: highly visible politicians must learn to use the language in such a professional way that turns a boring statement into a sticking message. If beating the British EU Exit (#Brexit) and Mr. Farage’s ideas requires accent training, executive presentation skills or a bit of theatre, so be it – we would all be better off in the end.


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Posted in Corporate communication, EU Affairs, Public Affairs, Public speaking

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