Unity in Diversity?

Language at the workplace / Monday, May 13th, 2019

The increasing trend of having multilingualism in the workplace constitutes new challenges that the European Union must tackle in order to provide a more harmonious co-existence of the language variety within Europe. Since many workplaces started to adjust themselves to the international standards, set out by globalization and the development of the European institutions, language realities such as working with international products and colleagues have become more important. Although the process of European integration already introduced multilingualism as one of the core concepts of the European Union, not every language is treated equally when it comes to communication at the workplace. Until now, English constitutes the top of the official working languages within the European Union which reasons the fact that multilingualism increases due to the aforementioned inequality among the 24 official languages.

The first attempt to increase multilingualism within the European Union was addressed in the 2000s when policy objectives aimed for a mandatory principle where every citizen of the European Union was encouraged to learn two additional languages. This approach was meant to promote European identity and to expand the possibilities of communication within German, French, Spanish and Italian. In the mid-2000s, however, this trend transformed itself into specified language skills that emphasized on multilingualism with maintaining the own national language instead of learning additional languages. By doing so, multilingualism was now defined by being unified in diversity regarding the existing 24 official languages. One of the reasons for this change can be found by looking at the identity crisis that every member state of the European Union faces due to political and economic discontinuity, imposed by globalization. Since the national languages are a crucial part of national identities, the incentive to learn other languages such as English decreased because European citizens returned to national concepts and away from the concept of the European Union. Therefore, it remains questionable whether the multilingual approach in recent times neglects the European Union by rather focusing on national diversity than on international language homogeneity.

Certainly, there will emerge stronger language barriers at workplaces around the European Union which cannot be tackled by simple translation tools such as Google translator or other advanced technologies. Although I favor English as a mutual communication tool, there are some possibilities to increase the multilingual character of the European Union without fearing the issues that language barriers impose within the workplace. English would then be replaced by the usage of the own national languages. The, so called Intercomprehension (IC) method, however, only works if people at their workplace have a sufficient proficiency in their skill to understand the other languages. Only then a multilingual approach would be efficient to abolish the increasing language barriers at the workplaces (Doye, 2005, p.7).

In my opinion, multilingualism at workplaces can only work flawlessly if the European Union provides language diversity programs in educational institutions and other facilities where multilnugualism exists. By doing so, European citizens can acquire a decent set of skills regarding other languages from an early stage in their career which would support the effectiveness of multiple languages as prominent communication toll. However, replacing English for mulitilingualism as mandatory skill requirement would neglect the acquired English skills from one third of the European population.

Ted talk on Multilingualism

Despite me favoring English as Lingua Franca, I think that multilingualism becomes an essential part of workplaces within the European Union. People increasingly use the linguistic diversity within Europe by focusing on their language skills as an advantage for achieving a successful career. Since English neglects the diversity and opportunities coming from the concept of a linguistic capital which provides multilingualism and language diversity, people will certainly aim for a better language representation regarding their workplaces. The aforementioned conditions that have to meet, in order to successfully implement multilingualism within workplaces are becoming easier to achieve due to the technological process regarding language translation. The current language barriers would then disappear due to sophisticated translation tools which would ensure perfect communication among the different languages within the European Union. Furthermore, any market requirements such as advanced L2 skills would not be existent, due to the flawless translations into L1.  

In conclusion, there are two possible outcomes that can prevent language barriers in the future. Firstly, increasing the importance of English as Lingua Franca within the European Union would lead to a higher appropriation of English standards at the workplace. However, this outcome clearly neglects the concept of Europe as linguistic capital due to its exclusivity and its lack of representation regarding the official 24 languages that are spoken among the member states. The second outcome would favor multilingualism in combination with translational advancement as future solution for more language representation. This, however, only works if the technological progress enables an effective way of translating all possible workplace languages.


Doye (2005) Intercomprehension. Guide for the Development of Linguistic Education Policies. Strasbourg: Council of Europe -Language Policy Division, p. 1-11 and 18-20.

2 Replies to “Unity in Diversity?”

  1. Dear Yaron,
    I agree with your assessment. English to me is not only the most practical but also the most feasible language for communication in an international workplace. If the closeness of some languages or other options make the intercomprehension method possible that would be great of course.
    Great post!

  2. Hello Yaron,
    I really admire how you exposure your argument, very interesting! Compliments as well for the choice of the video, good luck

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