Use + Remix

Special Report

Language, power and identity share an entangled relationship. : Michael Joiner, 360info CC BY 4.0 Language, power and identity share an entangled relationship. : Michael Joiner, 360info CC BY 4.0

English has become the dominant language used across global business, science, diplomacy and the internet, but it creates an unfair advantage.

Technology and international travel have removed geographical barriers that once stood in the way of global communication. Our lives are now more connected than ever.

Around the world, English has become the dominant language in business, science, diplomacy and the internet. It’s the official language of more than 55 countries, spoken by more than a billion people.

But the widespread use of English has naturally created an unfair advantage for native speakers, most of whom are in developed economies.

Languages play a crucial role in “development, in ensuring cultural diversity and intercultural dialogue,” according to the United Nations.

As language, power and identity share an entangled relationship, overcoming barriers to communication will require conscious effort.

This year’s UNESCO Mother Language Day focused on the challenges and opportunities for using technology for multilingual learning.

“Technology  can  provide  new  tools  for  protecting  linguistic  diversity,” said Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of UNESCO.

“Such  tools …  allow  us  to  record  and  preserve  languages which sometimes exist only in oral form. Put simply, they make local dialects a shared heritage.”


The English language spread with the colonisation of parts of Asia and Africa in the late 16th century.

One billion people use English their second (third, or fourth) language, but less than 400 million speak it as their first.

Forty percent of the global population doesn’t have access to an education in a language they speak or understand, particularly in linguistically diverse areas.

Challenges in keeping a language alive include a declining number of speakers, a lack of educational resource or political recognition, and internalised shame from speaking the language due to oppression, racism and discrimination.


Quote is attributable to Ingrid Piller, Macquarie University
“Supporting language diversity is a matter of social justice. It is a starting point to making institutions more accessible and inclusive.”

Quote is attributable to Celeste Rodriguez Louro, The University of Western Australia
“Biases can stem from difficulties in processing and understanding foreign accents … There are strategies to overcome these biases, but the true obstacle lies in implementing them widely.”

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Tasha Wibawa
Tasha Wibawa, Commissioning Editor, 360info Asia-Pacific