The London Language Roadmap

The London Language Roadmap

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Take one tube ride and chances are, that apart from the TFL voice warning you to ‘mind the gap’, English will not be the language you hear most. Depending on where you hop on or off, or the line you travel on, you may hear French, Spanish, Hindi, Bengali, Chinese or Russian amongst others.

Oliver O’Brien, researcher in geovisualisation and web mapping at University College London’s Department of Geography, charted the most commonly spoken second languages at London’s tube stations to give an overview of where different language groups live or at least hang out. While some results were predictable; French in South Kensington or Chinese in Charing Cross, others came as a surprise, such as Lithuanian and Nepalese in East London. 

Take a look for yourself and get an insight into your tube journey to work.

As a languages service provider, this map is particularly valuable. While English might be the worldwide lingua franca when it comes to business or politics, this tube map points towards a different everyday reality. A reality where localisation, translation, interpretation and subtitling are surely essential if you want to get your message across to everybody.

Wanting to know more about this, I looked at data gathered by the ONS (Office for National Statistics). Although this information was slightly out of date as the data available goes back to the 2011 Census, I also collected further evidence and information through well-established newspapers (Guardian) and some more popular rags (Independent, Daily Mail) and the results were fairly conclusive: with more than half a million Polish speakers, Polish has become the most commonly spoken non-native language in England and Wales, followed by Punjabi and Urdu.

The numbers also show that:

– Almost 140,000 people living in England and Wales cannot speak English.

– Approximately 726,000 have a weak grasp of the language.

– For about four million residents (8 % of the population) neither English nor Welsh is their main language.

Looking at these numbers, it is obvious that communication issues will come up. Here at GoLocalise, we often look outside of the UK as we focus on helping you, and your message, overcome these language barriers, but clearly these barriers must also be crossed in communities within the UK.​

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