This post is also available in: Portuguese (Brazil)
It’s very common, especially among academics, to hear discussions about the global digital divide. For those who’ve never heard of it before, the term refers to the fact that, while the majority of the population in the developed world has access to communication and information technologies (such as computers, smartphones, the Internet and broadband connection) and know how to use them effectively, the majority of the population in developing countries either don’t have access to those technologies or simply don’t know to use them.
Nothing new so far. But it turns out that many people believe that the global digital divide is one of the main factors contributing to the increase in global inequality. That’s the reason why there are so many people focused on finding a solution to this technology gap.
But what surprises me the most is that few people remember that, behind the digital divide, there’s another very significant divide: the language divide.
The language divide I’m talking about here refers to the fact that a high percentage of the population of most developed countries speaks English fluently, while a very small portion of the population of most developing countries does so.
This language divide is an important factor to be considered because not only is English the language used by people around the world to communicate with each other and make important decisions that affect the entire planet, but specially because most of the information on the Internet is in English (some studies suggest that more than 50% of all websites are in English).
A person who is fluent in English and, consequently, knows how to use the appropriate terms to do a Google search, not only has the ability to find the answers to all of his or her questions, but can also acquire all kinds of skills through the Internet (WOW! That’s what I call power!).
In addition, the English language, together with the communication technologies, give people a voice and enable them to have their interests and concerns potentially heard by the rest of the world. What happens when only the elites have a voice? Well, look around and you’ll find out.
I’m not naïve enough to believe that learning English is the solution to all problems. However, I do believe that being able to understand most of the information available online (not only identifying the general idea through Google Translate) and having a voice that can be understood by others, in addition to trained ears that can comprehend what others are saying, make a significant difference in an interconnected world like ours.
Knowing how (or having the desire) to communicate in English doesn’t mean being Americanized as some people suggested in the comments of the post I wrote last week. It simply means not wanting to feel handicapped in such an unequal world. Rather than indulging ourselves in navel-gazing, some of us want to be able to do more than just simply being passive about things that happen around us and that, whether you understand them or not, have a great impact on our lives.