Monday, May 25, 2009

America: A "Linguistically Neutered" Nation

How many languages can you speak? I can speak English, sort of fluent in Spanish, and can read French. But none of this has to do with going to high school or college. I decided way after college that I needed to seriously learn a language other than English.  My mother used to suggest I take Spanish in high school, but at the time it only seemed necessary when I went on vacation to Mexico.  

Only thing is, learning a second or third language isn't just about going on vacation.  It is about having an open mind about the world, realizing that you can gain so much knowledge if you look outside your own orbit.

Speaking of orbit, these days it isn't a bad idea to think about learning Chinese or Arabic. Everything isn't about the English and other European languages, especially in this era of mass globalization.  The article I post is about a woman in the UK saying that the other European Union nations are way ahead of Great Britain in learning additional languages.  What she doesn't mention is that a high percentage of UK residents are now multilingual -- they speak English, Arabic, Farsi, Polish or any other dozens of languages.  This isn't because their parents or schools insisted on it.  It is because of immigration to the UK - and globalization in general.

Just as learning Arabic in the UK may not be considered so important, Spanish is also downgraded because of our close-minded American attitude towards immigration. It is OK if our ancestors spoke Spanish or German, or Italian, but we are Americans now, and we HAVE to be English speakers - don't let your children waste their time learning anything else, because as you know, we (Americans) are the masters of the universe.* 

here is a different perspective from a parent in the UK:

"We Must Lift Our Children Out of Linguisitic Poverty" by Carolyn Sarll, London Independent, January 15, 2009

I was finding out how they [Germans] get their youngsters speaking a second language at such an early age – at six or seven years of age, at least four years before we traditionally get our pupils started. With four 50-minute lessons of English a week, that's how.

Compare this with our state school average of three lessons of German, French or Spanish over two weeks, and it becomes clear that time invested is the key. Forget technical and whiteboard wizardry – neither school that I visited possessed such gizmos, yet the pupils could converse brilliantly in English after just a year. That was a real fillip for us chalk'n'talk teachers, who still insist on the entire class parsing a verb at the expense of all those wacky visual aids.

The results prove that the Germans and other European states have got it right. In a recent survey, nearly 70 per cent of Britons said that they could not speak any language other than their mother tongue. Across the EU, this figure is 44 per cent.

Our reputation as a linguistically neutered nation is reflected, too, in the alarming nosedive in GCSE language entries. In 2001, 78 per cent of all pupils took at least one language; this year, it was a mere 46 per cent. In Wales, a nation that parades its bilingual badge unashamedly, the figures are even more depressing: in 1996, 46 per cent of pupils took at least one language, but this was down to a dismal 28 per cent this year. Cymru Am Byth (look it up) is all very well – and, before you think otherwise, as well as speaking German and French, I am a Welsh learner and proud of it – but not at the expense of our ability to function within a European and global context. To survive in today's world, we Welsh citizens must start speaking other languages, not just our own.
link to entire article

*and everyone should learn our language

Monolingual American

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