Interesting argument

Precisely because everyone else does learn English we should be learning other languages.

Foreigners will go on learning English, regardless. The British have an obligation, it seems to me, to reciprocate. Call it what you like – mutuality, courtesy, fair exchange, good practice. Not to do so is in every sense hateful. A self-exemption. A trusting in force and market, where – for once – force and market do not apply. A departure from international polity. A terminal and blazingly wrong conceit.

Something to do with us being the polite ones perhaps?

8 comments on “Interesting argument

  1. Precisely which language should I learn in order to “reciprocate”? Does replying in French to a German count? Is it “polite” to speak Swedish to a Spaniard?

    But of course, I forget that we in Britain are still in the era of pointless gestures where sending a message (unintelligible or otherwise) that show you have good intentions is more important than actually doing something good.

  2. Kay, you can learn any language you want. If you meet someone who doesn’t speak English and her 1st langauge isn’t your 2nd, you might still communicate because her 2nd langauge might also be your 2nd langauge. Even knowing enough words to get by goes a long way.

  3. So if I learn a few words Finnish I will have nothing in common with anyone I meet, they will speak English, but I will have discharged the obligation of reciprocity to the international brotherhood of communitarians?

    What a typically senseless waste of effort. Truly a solution for our times.

  4. kay tie – from my experience, it is a mistake to assume thaqt the foreigner using English words with you construes them in exactly the same way as you do. Learning foreign languages enables you mto recognise the problem areas. A typically good use of time if you want to deal with foreigners on anything other than to talk about the weather or why the train is delayed. going to Spain, Germany, Italy, Russia and talking loudly to locals in highlycolloquial English – (preferably using geordie dialect or Cockney rhyming slang) – is not merely rude, it is also stupid…but that’s what Ednglish people do best of all.

  5. Half the time I try to speak Russian to a Russian they try to reply in English so bad I need to ask them to speak Russian. I think most foreigners prefer us to speak English because they get to practice.

  6. “Learning foreign languages enables you mto recognise the problem areas.”

    Indeed. I’ve learned four, to varying levels. But most times I travel I either know nothing of the language and/or the level of English spoken exceeds my grasp of the local language. How could it be otherwise? My effort is spread across four languages that give poor coverage in Europe alone, but they put all their effort into one dominant language – English.

    Tim adds: Quite. My language skills are slight but I can (or could at least, because I did) happily conduct business negotiations in Russian, potter around Normandy in French (or that version they have in Normandy) to the extent I could tell a joke in a pub and be understood, today manage to run a household, buy the food, order cuts from the butcher etc in Portuguese.

    None of which is any damn good to me if I’m in Germany, Hungary, the Czech Republic (just try damn speaking Russian there!), Spain or any of the other myriad countries I’ve been to.

    Whereas being able to speak English is useful in all of the above places…..

  7. Diogenese – but that only helps you with people who speak the second language you’ve happened to learn, not with anyone speaking one of the thousands of other languages.

    I would also add that it’s often a mistake to assume that an English-speaker using English words with you construes them in exactly the same way as you do.

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