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This article was published on March 3, 2009

The limits of my language mean the limits of my world

The limits of my language mean the limits of my world
Boris Veldhuijzen van Zanten
Story by

Boris Veldhuijzen van Zanten

Founder & board member, TNW

Boris is a serial entrepreneur who founded not only TNW, but also V3 Redirect Services (sold), HubHop Wireless Internet Provider (sold), and Boris is a serial entrepreneur who founded not only TNW, but also V3 Redirect Services (sold), HubHop Wireless Internet Provider (sold), and Boris is very active on Twitter as @Boris and Instagram: @Boris.

europevsamericaThe title of this post is a quote from Wittgenstein which kept popping into my head as I was traveling through Europe these past weeks. I visited France on a ski trip, stopped over in Vienna by airplane and then traveled to Budapest by car.

I speak Dutch, some English, a little German and unfortunately only know one word in Hungarian. The conference I’m visiting only had 4 English presentations: my own, Ernst-Jan’s and two more. Unfortunately none of the other presentations used the only Hungarian word I know.

Hungary has a population of about 10 million people. After WW1 the country got split up and Hungary lost 72% of its land (a sensitive subject even now) which means that there are about 14.5 million people who still speak the language.

In Europe we tend to compare ourselves to the US regularly. We are jealous of the great start-up cultures in cities like San Francisco and the entrepreneurial spirit that so many Americans seem to have. But how much difference is there really between these two parts of the world? Lets take a good look at some statistics.

The US has a population of more than 300 million. Compare that to Hungary and you aren’t too well off. Compare it to Europe as a whole and the figures look different. There are more than 700 million Europeans. That is twice as big an audience as the US?! Suddenly I don’t feel so alone anymore.

Those 700 million people are divided by language, right? They all speak different languages so it is too difficult to reach them? Well yeah, there are 23 official langauges in the European Union and 65 languages and/or dialects in total. That sure sounds fragmented.

Everybody in the United States at least speaks English, right? Well, almost. English is not the official language of the United States but more than 82% of the population speaks it as their native language.

Lets look at Europe again: 51% of all europeans speak English as a second or first language. That actually means that there are more people who speak English in Europe (357 million) than there are people in the United States, in total!

It isn’t really about the language is it? It must be about the money. The United States is a richer market. But is that really true?

It looks like the GDP of the US was about USD 14,330,000 in 2008 and USD 18,930,000 in Europe (In millions of dollars).Yep, Europe is doing a lot better than the US when it comes to GDP. Maybe GPD growth? Is the US growing faster than we are? I don’t know what the results will be of the current economic crisis but when you look at from 2006 till 2007 the United States GDP grew 4.9% and our GDP grew 16%.

Maybe you say I’m making these numbers up as a biased European? Nope, they are from the CIA World Fact Book. Surely the CIA can be trusted on their own numbers?

The more I think about it the more interesting Europe becomes to me:

– There are more people in Europe
– More people speak English in Europe than there are people in the US
– We have more money in Europe than in the US
– We are growing faster

I have to admit, all these ‘facts’ are based on statistics. And we all know how trustworthy those are. But I do suggest you do your own research and look at what you can find out about the differences between Europe and the United States before you pack your bags and move to San Francisco.

Now all that is left for me to do is convince all the Internet Entrepreneurs in Hungary, and Europe, to actually start speaking English…