Language as Part of Intercultural Competence. Modern Languages and their Importance

Research Paper (postgraduate), 2016

28 Pages, Grade: 2,3


Table of Contents

List of Tables and Figures

List of abbreviations

1 Introduction

2 Origins of Language

3 Modern Languages and their Importance

4 Language Status and EGIDS Scale
4.1 English
4.2 German
4.3 Modern Standard Arabic
4.4 Basque
4.5 Esperanto

5 Language Mistakes in Marketing

6 Non-verbal Communication

7 Executive Summary


List of Tables and Figures

Table 1: Top 15 languages by total number of speakers (L1 & L2) page

Table 2: Top 15 languages by total number of native speakers (L1) page

Table 3: Expanded Graded Intergenerational Disruption Scale (EGIDS) page

Figure 1: English in the Language Cloud page

Figure 2: German in the Language Cloud page

Figure 3: Modern Standard Arabic in the Language Cloud page

Figure 4: Basque in the Language Cloud page

Figure 5: Esperanto in the Language Cloud page

List of abbreviations

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

1 Introduction

In times of accelerating globalisation, new emerging markets and an ever-faster growing technological development, intercultural competence (IC) becomes a very important skill that companies and individuals should acquire when they live and work in an international environment. This brings up the initial question of the meaning of IC and culture in general.

Geert Hofstede, a widely known Dutch pioneering researcher of cross-cultural groups and organisations, has defined culture as the "collective programming of the mind"[1]. Using this metaphor, he has found that the human brain can be compared with a computer and emphasised that each of us at birth is equipped with some sort of operating system which still needs programming in order to function properly.

But the question arises, what kind of programmes shall we use or write for our operating system? Some of them are already in our deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) and have been passed on through generations, such as laughing and weeping, or associative and aggressive behaviour, while some others are unique to individuals or groups of individuals. Mental programming has been classified in three levels. The first one is the universal level and it is the biological one which is shared by all (or almost all) human beings. The second level is the collective level and shared by some individuals who belong to a certain group or category. The highest level of programming is the individual level which differs from person to person as we are all unique with our own genetic makeup and experiences even if we are identical twins who are reared together.[2]

It can be said that culture is the software for our operating system and we need it in order to form groups and secure that these groups are stable and can survive. Social groups are dependent on members who are reliable, predictable and act according to the principles of the group because otherwise there would be anarchy. For that reason, it is advantageous for group members to have the same living practices, a similar behaviour, to share the same values and speak the same language etc.[3]

Different groups of people have formed civilisations who lived together in certain regions on Earth and shared their culture and language. Down through the ages of time, there have been many civilisations, some have disappeared, some have been taken over by other civilisations and others have flourished, and that's why it is necessary not just for people working in an international environment to further develop their intercultural competence in order to fully understand the different cultures and their traditions.

Darla K. Deardorff describes that the ability to have empathy and adaptability for cultural distinctions that differ from one's own culture is an important part of IC.[4] This means that when dealing with people from different backgrounds, which is inevitable in some professions, such as company managers and representatives, HR professionals, translators and interpreters, diplomats, business people and nonprofit leaders, one should always try to understand and dive into a new culture and be encouraged to learn as many languages as possible. Communicating in a foreign language is a comparative advantage, an attribute of IC and competitiveness and a career booster for every person.

2 Origins of Language

Language, or communication, in a broader sense, is just a part of culture but a very important one because a shared language allows members of different cultures to express themselves and communicate with each other. Just as norms, expectations and behaviour, language vary across cultures, and it can change and evolve in the course of time for several reasons, e.g. new needs of the speakers of a language, technological progress, new products, just to mention a few.

The origins of human language have been discussed as a topic for centuries and there is no consensus as to when it really began. Noam Chomsky, an American linguist and often referred to as the "father of modern linguistics", states that it has been an evolutionary process that still goes on today because he speaks of a so-called Language Faculty as a special component of the human brain which is specifically dedicated to language and required for language acquisition.[5]

Michael Corballis, emeritus professor at the Department of Psychology at the University of Auckland, is challenging Chomsky's theory as he argues in his book "The Truth about Language" that gesture was crucial to the development of speech instead of a single mutation in a single human. He states that we share that ability with other animals and his idea is supported by investigations of sign languages developed by deaf children who start to babble with their hands just as hearing children do with their mouths.[6]

The fact is that with evolution of mankind, different cultures have developed and their languages have developed with them. According to the Guinness World Records, the oldest evidence of written language is shown on pottery bearing proto-characters for the numbers 5, 7 and 8 and has been found in 1962 near the ancient city Xi'an in the Shaanxi province of China and dates back to around 5,000 - 4,000 BC.[7]

One of the most interesting and important artefacts with regard to language and translation can be seen in the British Museum in London: The Rosetta Stone. The monument was discovered in 1799 in Egypt by Napoleon's soldiers and became the key to crack the code of hieroglyphs. The inscription on the stone is written in two languages (Egyptian and Greek), using three scripts (hieroglyphic, demotic and Greek).[8]

The manuscript of Beowulf is the best known and longest epic poem in Old English which is the predecessor of modern-day English. The protagonist Beowulf is a young Scandinavian hero who helps the King of the Danes, whose great mead hall in Heorot is under attack by Grendel. The work, which consists of 3,182 lines and is today located in the British Library in London, shows impressively that Old English was a complex and fully developed poetic language at that time. Many words still in use in English today, such as water, earth, house, food, drink, sleep, sing, night, strong, the, a, be, of, he, she, you, no, not, are derived from Old English.[9]

Beowulf is a very good example which shows the evolution of language over time through expansion into new areas and interaction with other cultures because following the withdrawal of the Romans, whose commonly used language was Latin, the Anglo-Saxons came across the North Sea from Germany and parts of Denmark and brought their culture and language with them. Then came the Vikings and the Normans and Norse and French merged into the English language.[10]

3 Modern Languages and their Importance

Languages are constantly changing and this makes it difficult to count the exact number of living languages existing in the world today. Another problem could be the definition of a language because there is a difference between a language and a dialect, or between a language and a macrolanguage. For that reason, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) has set international standards toward comprehensive coverage of languages and language groups in the ISO 639 series. The language codes are used in the Ethnologue, a catalog of living languages published by SIL International, which is the registration authority for ISO 639-3. According to Ethnologue (19th edition), there are 7,097 living languages in the world.[11]

Table 1: Top 15 languages by total number of speakers (L1 & L2)

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Table 1 shows the 15 most spoken languages of the world. If the world population is 7.5 billion (on 5 December 2016)[12], then approx. 20 percent of all people around the globe speak Chinese as their first (L1) or second (L2) language. Chinese [zho] is a macrolanguage consisting of 13 variations with at least one million speakers each: Gan [gan], Hakka [hak], Huizhou [czh], Jinyu [cjy], Mandarin [cmn], Min Bei [mnp], Min Dong [cdo], Min Nan [nan], Min Zhong [czo], Pu-Xian [cpx], Wu [wuu], Xiang [hsn], Yue [yue]. Mandarin is by far the most important Chinese language with 1.1 billion speakers and the only one exceeding the one billion mark, followed by Wu with 80.1 million and Yue with 63 million speakers.[13]

English [eng] is the second most widely spoken language in the world with almost one billion speakers and it is the most popular one as it is spoken in 106 countries, making it a global language. It has the most L2 speakers with 603 million, making it the language with more L2 than L1 users and therefore many consider it as the lingua franca (ELF) of the world. The United States (USA) are home to 225 million native speakers and 25.6 million people who use it as a second language. India can boast to have the most important English-speaking population beyond the United States with 350,000 native speakers and an impressive 200 million L2 users.[14]

Spanish [spa], which is spoken on several continents and often referred to as Castellano, Castilian, Español, trails in third place with more than half a billion speakers. Interestingly, there are almost as many native speakers in the USA (L1: 37 million) as there are in Spain (L1: 38.4 million). When it comes to the number of second-language users, the USA (L2: 15 million) outnumber Spain (L2: 7.5 million), making it the world's second-largest Spanish-speaking country behind Mexico (L1: 109 million and L2: 7.46 million).[15]

In fourth place on the list of most spoken languages is Arabic with 452 million speakers. Arabic originated on the Arabian Peninsula and eventually spread out to the Levant, Mesopotamia, North Africa and other places. Like Chinese, Arabic [ara] is a macrolanguage spoken in 58 countries whose speakers use a variety of different forms and dialects: Algerian [arq], Chadian [shu], Eastern Egyptian Bedawi [avl], Egyptian [arz], Gulf [afb], Hijazi [acw], Libyan [ayl], Mesopotamian [acm], Moroccan [ary], Najdi [ars], North Levantine [apc], North Mesopotamian [ayp], Omani [acx], Sa'idi [aec], Sanaani [ayn], South Levantine [ajp], Sudanese [apd], Ta'izzi-Adeni [acq], Tunisian [aeb]. The most widely recognised of all Arabic dialects is Egyptian with 58,412,000 speakers due to the popularity of Egyptian films, radio and TV programmes, followed by Algerian with 31.8 million speakers and Moroccan with 28.1 million. Modern Standard Arabic [arb] is the standardised variety of Arabic used for written and spoken purposes in formal settings, but it is not an L1. In most Arab countries only the well-educated have adequate proficiency in Standard Arabic.[16]

Hindi, which evolved from Sanskrit and has 380.6 million speakers, is spoken in north India: Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Rajasthan, Punjab, Madhya Pradesh, northern Bihar, Himachal Pradesh. It is closely related to Urdu, the official language of Pakistan, but the difference is that Urdu has derived its vocabulary from Arabic and Persian.[17]

French [fra] is probably the most romantic language and often referred to as the language of love. It is one of the few languages spoken on every continent with 229.2 million speakers in 53 countries. As a language of the Romance family, it has a significant lexical similarity with the following languages: 89% Italian [ita], 80% Logudorese Sardinian [src], 78% Romansch [roh], 75% Portuguese [por], Romanian [ron] and Spanish [spa]. Due to the geographical proximity, it also has a relatively substantial 29% similarity with German [deu] and 27% with English [eng].[18]

Portuguese [por] ranks seventh in the world's most spoken languages with 208.5 million speakers in 12 countries. Portugal is a small country with just 10 million speakers but it was a global player during the colonisation era and its language has spread all over the world. Standard Portuguese of Portugal is based on Southern or Estremenho dialect (Lisbon and Coimbra) but more varieties of the language are: Brazilian Portuguese, Beiran (Beirão), Alentejan (Alentejano), Algarvian (Algarvio), Minhotan (Minhoto), Transmontan (Transmontano), Madeirese (Madeirense), Azorean (Açoriano).[19]

Bengali [ben] is the official language of Bangladesh, but it is also spoken in India, Nepal and Singapore. The total number of speakers is 208.3 million which makes it one of the most widely spoken languages in the world. Bangladesh itself has 106 million speakers and is followed by its neighbouring country India which also has a significant Bengali population with 82.5 million speakers.[20]

Russian [rus] is the ninth most spoken language with 201.4 million speakers, and it is spoken in 17 countries. Russian is the official language of Russia with 137 million speakers, but there are large Russian-speaking communities in Ukraine (14.3 million), Belarus (6.67 million), Uzbekistan (4.07 million) and Kazakhstan (3.75 million).[21]

Indonesian [ind] is the most important variety of Malay [msa] and has 198.2 million speakers. It has lexical similarity of more than 80% with Standard Malay [zsm] and 175 million of all Indonesian speakers are L2 users, which is a quite impressive percentage of 88.0. Indonesian is spoken in Indonesia, while the Malay is spoken in 16 countries, some of which are Brunei, Indonesia and Malaysia. The Malay macrolanguage has over 200 million speakers and also includes Banjar [bjn], Malay [zlm], Central Malay [pse], Jambi Malay [jax], Kedah Malay [meo], Pattani Malay [mfa], Minangkabau [min] and Musi [mui].[22]

With over 100 million speakers each, Urdu [urd], German [deu], Japanese [jpn], Lahnda [lah] and Swahili [swa] belong to the most important languages in the world. The Swahili macrolanguage includes Swahili [swh] and Congo Swahili [swc] and is spoken in Tanzania, Kenya, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Uganda and other places. The Lahnda macrolanguage consists of Saraiki [skr], Northern Hindko [hno], Pahari-Potwari [phr], Southern Hindko [hnd], Western Punjabi [pnb]. Western Punjabi is the most spoken native language in Pakistan with 88.5 million speakers but it has no official status at a national level. Urdu is Pakistan's official language with 14.7 million native speakers in the country, but it is taught in primary and secondary schools and 94 million people speak it as a second language. Japanese has a total of 128.16 million speakers, but the number of L2 speakers is negligible with only 11,500.[23]

A total of 5.078 billion people speak at least one of the 15 most spoken languages, which makes up more than two-thirds of the world's population. Almost 60 percent (4.430 billion) speak at least one of the ten most important languages, and most interestingly, approx. 45 percent (3.384 billion) speak at least one of the top five languages in the world. English, the world's lingua franca, is spoken in the most countries and has the most L2 speakers, but it ranks only second on the list of the most widely spoken languages behind Chinese.

Table 2: Top 15 languages by total number of native speakers (L1)

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Source: Ethnologue - Languages of the World, Summary by language size,

Table 2 shows the 15 most spoken native languages of the world. With 897 million speakers, Mandarin Chinese [cmn] is by far the most spoken native language worldwide due to its sheer volume of speakers. 70% of Chinese language users speak a Mandarin dialect as their first language. Mandarin is the official language in China and spoken in 14 countries, including Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore.[24]

Spanish [spa] is second on the list of the most widely spoken native languages with 427 million first-language speakers in 31 countries. One quarter of all speakers live in Mexico, but other important Spanish-speaking countries are Colombia (46.6 million), Argentina (40.3 million), Venezuela (29.1 million) and Peru (24.3 million).[25]

English [eng] is the third largest language by the number of native speakers with 339 million, and it has many local varieties or dialects. Quite impressive is the fact that only one-thirds of all English speakers are native speakers. Almost 17 percent of English native speakers live in the United Kingdom (UK), including 49.8 million in England and Wales, 5.1 million in Scotland and 1.7 million in Northern Ireland. As it is a Germanic language, it has a 60 percent lexical similarity with German, but it is also influenced by French (27 percent).[26]

Arabic [ara], Hindi [hin] and Portuguese [por] are languages whose native speakers exceed the 200 million mark. Modern Standard Arabic is a second language and cannot be taken into consideration to determine the number of native speakers, but the Arabic macrolanguage has 267 million native speakers. Most native speakers of Portuguese live in Brazil with 187 million speakers, but Mozambique also has a significant Portuguese-speaking population with 1.58 million native speakers.[27]

Bengali [ben], Russian [rus], Japanese [jap] and Lahnda [lah] have each between 100 million and 200 million native speakers. In contrary to English, most of Russian speakers are native speakers (almost 85 percent), making it the largest native language in Europe. Only 29.9 million Russian speakers are L2 users.[28]

Javanese [jav], Korean [kor], German [ger], French [fra] and Telugu [tel] als belong to the most important native languages in the world. Like English, French has more L2 than L1 speakers which means that it is an attractive target language to learn for non-native speakers. German has 76,9 million native speakers, making it the most widely spoken native language in the European Union, and it is also attractive as a foreign language due to the fact that it has more than 50 million L2 speakers.[29]

A total of 3.386 billion people speak at least one of the 15 most important languages as a native language, which makes up approx. 45 percent of the world's population. Almost 40 percent (2.997 billion) speak at least one of the ten largest languages, and nearly 30 percent (2.19 billion) speak at least one of the top five languages in the world.


[1] Hofstede, Geert H., Culture's Consequences: International Differences in Work-Related Values. Abridged edition, Beverly Hills, USA (Sage Publications) 1984, p. 13

[2] cf. Hofstede, Geert H., loc. cit., p. 15

[3] cf. Herbig, Paul A., Kaynak, Erdener, Handbook of Cross-Cultural Marketing, Binghamton (The Haworth Press inc.) 1998, p. 11

[4] cf. Deardorff, Darla K., The SAGE Handbook of Intercultural Competence. Los Angeles (Sage Publications), 2009, p. 380

[5] cf. Chomsky, Noam, Powers and Prospects. Reflections on Human Nature and the Social Order. London (Pluto Press), 1996, p. 30

[6] cf. The Economist, You tell me that it's evolution?,

[7] cf. Guinness World Records official site,

[8] cf. Official website of the British Museum,

[9] cf. The History of English - Old English (c. 500 - c.1100),

[10] cf. The History of English - Old English (c. 500 - c.1100), loc. cit.

[11] cf. Ethnologue: Languages of the World,

[12] cf. Worldometers, World population,

[13] cf. Ethnologue: Languages of the World, loc. cit.

[14] cf. Ethnologue: Languages of the World, loc. cit.

[15] cf. Ethnologue: Languages of the World, loc. cit.

[16] cf. Ethnologue: Languages of the World, loc. cit.

[17] cf. Ethnologue: Languages of the World, loc. cit.

[18] cf. Ethnologue: Languages of the World, loc. cit.

[19] cf. Ethnologue: Languages of the World, loc. cit.

[20] cf. Ethnologue: Languages of the World, loc. cit.

[21] cf. Ethnologue: Languages of the World, loc. cit.

[22] cf. Ethnologue: Languages of the World, loc. cit.

[23] cf. Ethnologue: Languages of the World, loc. cit.

[24] cf. Ethnologue: Languages of the World, loc. cit.

[25] cf. Ethnologue: Languages of the World, loc. cit.

[26] cf. Ethnologue: Languages of the World, loc. cit.

[27] cf. Ethnologue: Languages of the World, loc. cit.

[28] cf. Ethnologue: Languages of the World, loc. cit.

[29] cf. Ethnologue: Languages of the World, loc. cit.

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Language as Part of Intercultural Competence. Modern Languages and their Importance
University of applied Sciences Regensburg
Language and Intercultural Competence
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Language, Languages, Intercultural Competence, IC, English, Body Language, EGIDS
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Markus Giesecke (Author), 2016, Language as Part of Intercultural Competence. Modern Languages and their Importance, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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