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English has been called the “global language of business” because of its international significance. In 2014, a group of investigators studied the global influence of languages by looking for connections through translations compiled by UNESCO’s IndexTranslationum project, Wikipedia contributors editing in two languages, and linguistic co-expressions on Twitter. The report concluded that “the world’s languages exhibit a hierarchical structure dominated by a central hub, English, and a halo of intermediate hubs, which include other global languages such as German, French, and Spanish” (“Links that speak: The global language network and its association with global fame”).
Another useful indicator is the level of instruction demand sought from the Berlitz School of Languages. Berlitz reports that the demand for learning English increased by 43% in the period from 1989 to 2009. In comparison, the demand for Spanish instruction only increased by 9.57% in that same period.
The recognition of a common business language begs the question, “is this a benefit to a global business community”? Further, how does the dominance of the English language in business affect a region like Latin America, where most the population are native Spanish speakers? This becomes even more critical in the transaction of insurance related business activities such as negotiating insurance or reinsurance contracts, handling claims, or reporting -where a subset of specialized lexicon comes into play. Are we all really communicating in the same language?
The EF - EPI (Education First - English Proficiency Index) is a study ranking 72 countries and territories based on test data from over 950,000 subjects that took online English tests. The results are ranked by proficiency bands. According to the 2016 results, of the 14 Latin American countries included in the survey, only one (Argentina, ranking 19th) reached the “high proficiency” band, and only one (Dominican Republic, ranking 23rd) reached the “moderate” level. Uruguay (36th), Costa Rica (38th), Brazil (40th), Chile (42nd), Mexico (43rd), Peru (45th) and Ecuador (47th) were placed in the “low” proficiency band; while Colombia (49th), Panama (50th), Guatemala (53rd), Venezuela (60th) and El Salvador (63rd) were assigned to the “very low” band.
These results may be correlated to overall literacy in each of these countries; however, a separate EPI study directed to companies (EF EPI-c) administering tests to individuals amongst various industries in all 72 of these nations rendered similar results.
One can surmise that communication between Spanish and English speakers may not be par. Many may attempt to bridge this gap by introducing an informal translator for verbal and/or written communication. While this may help when conducting business in multiple languages, there are concerns of losing content or context because of translation issues.
It is of course possible to attempt to overcome this problem with the assistance of professional translators, but this is not practical in every case. Additionally, translators are not necessarily equipped with the technical knowledge, specific jargon and industry culture of the insurance world, which creates another problem. As the proliferation of foreign insurance and reinsurance products continues in Latin America, so increases reliance on adjusters, experts, attorneys and other suppliers who have true bi/multi lingual abilities.
As a final consideration, there is no homogenous form of Spanish in the LatAm region. This can also be an issue in communications between Latin Americans. Stay tuned for the second installment of this topic.
Published by Daniel Baron*
*Not licensed to practice in Florida