English: The Language of Innovation?

Is English the language of innovation? Of course not. Innovation is one of the traits that makes humans human, and innovative ideas can be found and expressed in every language.

However, you might be forgiven for thinking that it is based on the media coverage. As Belgian/Italian entrepreneur Mark Vanderbeeken points out, the global coverage of new startups and technology is heavily influenced by the language it is written in… and that language is primarily English.  This has unfortunate consequences for entrepreneurs in non-English-speaking countries, investors and decision-makers in English-speaking countries and the world as a whole.

As Vanderbeeken explains in an excellent article reprinted in Wired:

“[T]he global news about innovation is written and read in English. It is only natural that international decision makers are influenced by English-language media reports on how European business climates and countries are being perceived. Unfortunately, Italy ends up being portrayed as a country without strong innovation capabilities.”

This perception means that even innovative ideas from Italian entrepreneurs are much more likely to be overlooked, instead of getting the attention, consideration and perhaps funding that they deserve. As Vanderbeeken puts it,

“Decision makers who are basing their information solely on what they are receiving in the English language media are unfortunately not learning a lot about the more dynamic and highly innovative realities that have recently arisen.”

Vanderbeeken also points out that, based on the experience of Silicon Valley, the English-speaking tech media is attached to the idea of specific cities being hotbeds of innovation. And since people like to write and read about what happens close to home, English-language media are exponentially more likely to look for the “next Silicon Valley” in the United States or the UK.

This, in turn, has consequences for the rest of Europe:

“And since the European newspaper editors take a lot of their innovation copy from English-language media, the bias gets reinforced: even Italian media tend to write about innovation as if it comes primarily from abroad.”

When promising startups get overlooked due to language barriers, and the best companies from non-English-speaking countries feel they have to relocate to grow, the whole world loses.

2 replies
  1. Mark Vanderbeeken
    Mark Vanderbeeken says:

    Thanks for your reflection/summary of my article. I am not sure my writing will change much. Here are some examples from nearby countries that have created media in English. I am curious to what extent this has had an impact.
    (see comments)

    Reply

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