This week the city of Geneva announced plans to provide administrative and promotional documents in English and four other languages. The city welcomes nearly 20,000 new residents every year and city officials have decided language shouldn’t be a barrier to accessing public services.
After a survey they decided on five languages: Spanish, Portuguese, Albanian, Arabic and English.
Some argue, moves such as this, remove the need and motivation to learn the local language.
The mayor, Esther Alder, and her colleagues Guillaume Barazzone et Sami Kanaan, say that it is vital that a city like Geneva, with its international status, be able to communicate with its numerous international communities. These groups need to be able to quickly understand essential administrative formalities as soon as they arrive. Experience tells us that translating key documents fosters integration.
Edward Girardet, Le News’ former editor, who is based at the UN in Geneva, says that English is the only language that nearly everybody at the UN speaks. Publishing magazines for UN staff in other languages is great for diversity but it doesn’t connect people in the same way that English does. Love it or hate it, English is the international lingua franca. We need to be practical and accept this. In addition, international workers often move too often to find time to learn every local language they come in to contact with, even if they wished to. English is part of what makes Geneva truly international.
It is important to remember that most who speak English are not native speakers. The British Council, presents one estimate that calculates there is just one native speaker to every five non-native speakers, and well over 2 billion English speakers in total.
Numerous universities based in non-anglophone countries now teach only in English. INSEAD a business school based in France, taught many courses in French when the first MBA students arrived in 1959. Eventually teaching in French was stopped. Then in the late nineties, the requirement for MBAs to speak French upon graduation was dropped ahead of the opening of its second campus in Singapore. By then, speaking French had little professional value for too many of the globally-mobile students applying. INSEAD had evolved to fit an increasingly international world. International Geneva is similar.
Geneva city plans to translate documents such as information about early childhood services and youth centres (Maisons de quartier), as well as the waste service, the Department of sport and culture, libraries and sports facilities. Already, four information points around the city provide information in a number of languages.