Language focus | 06.08.2009

Has Scandinavia adopted English as a second language?

According to a recent EU poll 86% of Danes and 89% of Swedes (Norway is not a member of the EU, and therefore not part of the poll) claim to have English as “a language other than their mother tongue”. What the poll does not mention, however, is their proficiency.

Many people with an academic background have a very good working knowledge of both spoken and written English, this is not surprising as English textbooks and research material are often used throughout Scandinavia; likewise, foreign students and international guest lecturers will normally use English as their working language.

This does not mean that people without higher education have little or no knowledge of English. Newspaper articles are scattered with English words and phrases, particularly when reporting on financial or scientific matters. Most entertainment programmes on television, as well as films in the cinema, are in English, and as no TV programmes or films are dubbed, with the exception of those specifically targeted at children, people are constantly exposed to spoken English.

In the world of business, however, it must be stressed that the need for professional translation services, such as those provided by The Translation People, cannot be underestimated. When it comes to technical and legal texts, such as user manuals, safety instructions, tenders and contracts, it is imperative that the translation is accurate and concise, and in terms of marketing material a good translation – or better still, localisation – of a brochure or web site can mean the difference between success or failure in a new export market.


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