Saturday, February 14, 2009

Parlez-vous francais? Pourquoi?

We Americans are notorious for our arrogant monolinguality, for expecting everybody else to speak English with us when we go abroad. We rarely learn more than the smattering of a foreign tongue required in high school. Since the rest of the world is learning English at an increasing pace, we reason, why bother?

Now, according to an interesting opinion piece by "Charlemagne" in this week's Economist (it's online only to subscribers), the Brits are following us into the mud of linguistic ignorance. As Europeans become bilingual, those in the United Kingdom are becoming monolingual.

What's more, even though an increasing number of newspapers and magazines throughout Europe are mounting English websites, enabling native speakers of French, German, Dutch, Polish and other languages to exchange ideas and information in a universal language, the average Briton cares little for the intellectual and social treasures of these sites.

According to Charlemagne, British papers have closed foreign bureaus, partly because of the economic doldrums but also lack of interest. "Britain's daily newspapers are less and less interested in European politics and policy. Light, sensational stuff is what editors choose for publication, plus tales of British tourists and expatriates in trouble (a genre known as 'Brits in the shit.')"

Sounds very American, doesn't it?

The trouble, Charlemagne continues, began in 2003 when Britain dropped the foreign language requirement for pupils over 14. Instruction in foreign tongues plummeted, and "that robs [the pupils] of such benefits as the humility and respect for others that come from learning another language."

Of course, Charlemagne cites a Belgian academic as saying, "given the rise of English, [this development] is rational."

European Union meetings, he said, almost always are held "in a language that is understood, at least minimally, by all," and "this is almost always English."

And so, Charlemagne concludes, Brits are finding it harder to justify the effort to learn another language.

Doesn't make it right, of course. As the globe grows smaller, the riches of other cultures -- as expressed in their languages -- help rejuvenate a nation. One of the resulting problems we have as Americans who do not speak a foreign tongue is our extreme cultural parochialism, often manifested in aggressive ignorance toward "hot-button" social issues.

Now, it seems, Brits are becoming know-nothing yobbos like all too many of us Yanks.


  1. Mais oui, mon vieux! Je parle francais. Comment ca va?

    (Spelling more iffy then speaking. It has been a while)

  2. I am very sad at the loss of foreign language teaching in our English schools. When I went to school (admittedly, in the 50s and 60s ) we had to do either French and German or French and Russian as well as Latin. My own 2 sons did Spanish and French and, indeed, both developed a great love for European languages such that they both did higher language learning to degree level. I wish it were still so but now the trend is for "media studies" etc. I deplore the habit of Brits who go to live in France and Spain, particularly, and just immerse themselves in the ex-pat communities rather than try to integrate themselves with the locals. No wonder we are generally loathed in these countries.

  3. les vis, ils peuvent apprendre l'anglais!

  4. When I studied the so called Secondary Level in Brazil, comprised with "ginasial" and "colegial", I made 4 years of French, 4 years of English 2 years of Latin, 1 year of Spanish. It is a pity that some thought it was an elitistic education, they promoted a cut of a lot of humanistic subjects supplying with math, physics and other following science, engineering paths. What is the point of equilibrium for a good and popular Education

  5. Je viens de créer un blog pour ceux qui parlent français à São Paulo, Brésil.

    Il débute, j'espère que un prof ou parleur natif participe avec des dûes corrections d'ortographe et de constructions, parce que j'ai que des cours gymnasiaux (au lycée) déjà à plus de 45 ans et une pratique du temps que je suis allé en France entre 1970 et 1984