Which language should be the EU’s common working language?

As the multiple languages are more and more disabling for the EU, it will eventually be necessary to agree on one common working language. It will be greatly unsatisfying if this language was to be that of one of the member states, as the power of language gives increased power in all areas.


There have been many suggestions through the years that Latin could be used as a working language, seeing as most European languages, including Slavic languages such as Polish, Czech and Russian, contain a large number of words that can be traced back to Latin. Additionally, Latin is no longer a national language, if you disregard that it is the official language of the Vatican state alongside Italian. Unfortunately, Latin is such a difficult language to learn that Esperanto should be a logical choice instead, as it can be said to be a Latin of the modern day with a simple and easily learnt grammar and where 80% of the roots of the words are taken from Latin or Romance languages that have developed from it.

If Esperanto were to be chosen as the working language in the EU, it would bring a higher degree of linguistic equality between the citizens of the EU, and more importantly, serve as a protection for all languages and the cultures within which they exist. Which is preferable, cultural streamlining or cultural diversity?

In order to prevent Esperanto to supersede the different national- and regional languages it will be necessary to legislate that the education up to upper secondary school must not be held in Esperanto.

Emma Bonino is an Italian politician who holds a seat in the European Commission. In a magazine interview, she said that the lack of a common language for the Federation prevents economic growth within the EU. Moreover, she said that a neutral language would have the benefit of protecting diversity and linguistic minorities. She also praised Esperanto as different studies have shown that it increases the speed with which other languages are learned.


The EU ought to agree on a common working language, which is easy to learn, out of solidarity with the poor countries of the world. English, with its complicated spelling and grammar and if possible even more complicated pronunciation, requires a much too long (and therefore expensive) learning period, as well as a high level of competence from the teachers.

In a world that is growing even smaller, the EU should look outside its borders as well, when choosing a common working language, as whichever language it is that is chosen, it will have an enormous impact on the rest of the world. The world of today is in great need of a common language for communication between different linguistic areas. Not least because the world is becoming increasingly complex and the international communications are quickly increasing.

If the EU is able to agree on a common working language and on the teaching of this in the schools of all EU countries, such a language will become a world language and also an official language in the UN, thanks to the large and growing importance of the EU in the world economy.

Make the right choice – choose .........

English is the only realistically conceivable working language today, apart from Esperanto. Choosing English as a working language would amount to a further threat against the continued existence of a number of smaller languages, as well as fortifying the English and American cultural influences in European cultural life (as well as that of other cultures), thereby creating a more conformist Europe and a more conformist world. Furthermore, English is such a difficult language that many Europeans would be incapable of following the debates carried on in the different organ of the EU or to comprehend the minutes from meeting etc. Beyond that, the English language does not have the international linguistic dominance that we attribute to it in Europe.

Do you not want to protect a multicultural Europe and a multicultural world? A multicultural Europe is more than the sum of its different cultures, since many different cultures means that many different cultures will influence and inspire each other to an increased cultural development. Everyone wins in such a situation, even the English speaking peoples.

Why not Chinese?

If the EU despite everything decides to choose a national language, which one should it be? This language should become compulsory in all schools in the EU. We cannot demand that schoolchildren should have to learn two or more foreign languages. Therefore the language must be internationally viable.

China has a population of 1 300 000 and it is estimated that around 2033 it will be the greatest economic power in the world. In 2002 the growth of the economy of China was more than 7% whilst it in 2003 was 9,1% and 9,5% in the year of 2004. Will the Chinese continue to be amenable to speak to us in English in the future? Should we make Chinese the common working language in the EU? This would indeed be discerning and would aid the EU in developing positive trade links with the gigantic Chinese market. Or should we perhaps meet the Chinese half-way? There is a positive attitude towards Esperanto in China today. There are teaching, several magazines are published in Esperanto and there are regular radio broadcasts in this language. Will they be as positive to it in 50 years time?

A heavy colonial load

Although many people have their hopes placed on English, they must come to accept that it will never be accepted as a common international language. In part because it is too difficult, in part because the Spanish and French-speaking countries would never accept it and in part because it carries a heavy load from the colonial period. In for instance India, the Arabic world and Latin America there are many who are negative towards the use of English for this reason. Additionally, which one of the many kinds of English would we choose? Oxford English, which is only spoken by 3-5% of England’s population or perhaps General American, which is the English spoken by the largest group of the English speaking people? Beyond these, there are several variants of English, all with different pronunciations and spellings.

It is not certain that two English-speaking people are able to understand each other; I have been told by a British-born interpreter.

Everyone is not a good linguist

People who suggest that English should become a international world language must have English as their mother tongue, or have not bothered to find out what a complicated language the English actually is, or has spent a lot of effort learning English and is too lazy to learn a new language, or is a language genius who does not understand that languages do not come as easily to everyone.

A study performed in six western European countries revealed that about 7% of the population were able to understand an English text of normal difficulty well.

© Hans Malv, 2004