Tuesday, June 06, 2017

Speaking of Language ...

Thanks to my undergraduate degree in Linguistics and my lifelong interest in foreign languages, I was drawn to an article to which my friend Mary posted a link not long ago: Meet the Linguists: the New French Government Is Packing Some Pretty Intimidating Skills. The point of the article was that not only does French president Emmanuel Macron speak perfect English*, but almost all the senior members of his government speak at least one, and often several foreign languages fluently.

I realize that the linguistic skill of the senior officials of the French government probably doesn't interest the average American, but it should ... particularly when you think about it in the context of other things in the news, such as this: With State Budget in Crisis, Many Oklahoma Schools Hold Classes Four Days a Week. When classes are held only four days a week, what are the subjects that tend to drop off the schedule? Music, art ... and foreign languages. There is ample reason to question the educational preparation of many Americans nowadays, but there's really no reason to make the situation worse.

As you probably know if you've been reading this blog for very long, I speak German ... not quite as well as I did when we were actually living in Germany, but well enough to converse on most topics with native speakers of the language. I can tell you from long experience that people in Germany were amazed to find an American who actually spoke their language beyond the stock tourist phrases seeking the location of beer, toilets, or train stations.

The ability to speak a language other than your own is a priceless asset when traveling, or when trying to understand the positions and opinions of other nations. As the "Meet the Linguists" article pointed out ...

"Where a thorough command of a language does help is when it comes to questions of cultural understanding. The linguistic skills of Macron’s ministers attest to their ability to empathise with their interlocutors and to understand their cultural, historical and social hinterland."

In an era of jingoistic "America First" attitudes, many Americans insist that there's no need to learn a foreign language ... everyone speaks English, after all, and if they don't, they should. But as America draws back like a turtle into its protective shell, there are a lot of other languages out there that are being studied as new powers arise - languages like Chinese and Russian - and languages that are being studied because of changes in the cultural makeup of nations - languages like Spanish and Arabic. You may believe in "America First," but if you want to get other nations to listen to you and take you seriously, making an effort to meet them halfway by learning their languages is not a bad idea.

Ich wünsche Euch einen recht schönen Tag. Neue Bemerkungen werden Morgen erscheinen.


* Better than the American president, according to some.


Mike said...

I wish you a nice day also.

John Hill said...

Old joke/truism

If you speak two languages, you're bi-lingual.
If you speak several languages, you're multi-lingual.
If you speak one language, you're American.

Grand Crapaud said...

It is worth it to learn a second language.

allenwoodhaven said...

It is a great asset. I no longer remember the French I knew long ago but do remember thinking in French instead of English at one point.