Clever and smart aren’t quite the same thing

Britons should learn Polish and Urdu to be more welcoming to immigrants, a Cambridge University professor has said.
Wendy Ayres-Bennett, professor of French philology and linguistics at the university, said it was ‘very important to think of integration as a two-way street.’
She has backed calls for immigrants to learn English once they arrive, but wants Brits to make more of an effort to adapt.

Sigh.

Yes, yes, we know the touchy feely goodie stuff. But which language is it that Britons should learn? There’re what, 300 odd serious contenders for being worth half a decade’s serious study out there. Should someone in Doncaster learn Polish, or Czech, Belarussian, Slovak, Ukrainian, Sorb, Wend, Serbo Croat, just to pick a few of the Slavic languages?

96 comments on “Clever and smart aren’t quite the same thing

  1. Credentialised is different from smart or clever. These people are only smart or clever within their own tiny, self referential worlds. Outside them, they hit the low end of the stupidity scale

  2. BiS, my eldest is in the final stages of a Physics Masters degree. The lad works hard and understands stuff I could never even get my head around. On the outside world, he can’t change a fuse in a plug or or do any other practical everyday stuff. Heaven knows I have tried to teach him but he regards it as trivial.

  3. “…people are only smart or clever within their own tiny, self referential worlds. Outside them, they hit the low end of the stupidity scale.”

    That’s true of almost any specialist. Even builders.

  4. Britons struggle to learn French, Spanish or German, the languages of our biggest neighbours.

    And now they should learn Polish AND Urdu?

    Simple solution – the Polish and Urdu speakers should learn English, they are, after all, in an immersive environment (unless they seclude themselves), which is hte easiest way to do it.

  5. Something that has always put me off investing time in a new language, other than a smattering of Spanish, is exactly this. English is useful almost everywhere in world, urdu less so.

    Just a question, isn’t the ones who are spending extra years in education who are the thicko;s?

  6. A professor of *French* philology? Haven’t the French actively resisted changes to their language for decades?

  7. Enoch Powell learnt Urdu at SOAS while studying for his double-starred first in Classics at Cambridge. I bet he must be one of the prof’s heroes!

  8. Syrian culture seems to have done quite well. Brits should adapt themselves to be more like Syria to welcome the thousands of refugees moving from there to here.

  9. Prof needs some high school economics.

    Such activities soak resource – particularly time, for which there is an opportunity cost. It doesn’t seem a good use, which explains why so few people take it up.

  10. Polish of course is one the most difficult European languages to learn. Who will pay for the time that it takes?

  11. Dear “Professor”

    For your services to stupidity and Cultural Marxism we are delighted to inform you that we are to be presented with the Cologne prize. Which this year is the very latest Silent Rape Alarm.

    This new protective device, the very cutting-edge of Islamo-German engineering, makes absolutely no noise whatsoever while at the same time emitting sound-cancelling “phased-waves” (themselves inaudible) that will deaden/supress all screaming, protest and potential Islamophobic remarks within a 50 metre diameter area. Thus allowing innocents–who might be wrongly accused of serious crimes on the basis of unreliable two-day old false memories– plenty of time to escape.

    As a final bonus the device sends a signal to both the police and the press allowing them plenty of time to come up with dissimulation/ cover stories etc.

    The device fits easily in your pocket/handbag and is hijab-friendly.

    Our very best regards,

    Yours Badfaithfully,

    Binky Huxtable

    :on behalf of “Peace Be Upon Them-Women Silenced for Better Tommorrow”

  12. If you want to integrate the language you need to learn is Mathematics.
    Is suspect the Prof isn’t fluent in that.

  13. I presume that the Poles should be learning Urdu, and the Pakistanis Polish as well, for the same reason.
    Well I suppose if we were to insist on it it would cut immigration.

  14. On the bright side, if you do learn Polish/Urdu etc, you’ll know when they are insulting you behind your back, and then you can swear at them just as they are about to get off the train or whatever

  15. Always struck me as quite useless to learn a little bit of a language. If I learn enough German to say “Ich bin ein Mann und du bist eine Frau” that’s not going to help me much in Germany. I’m likely to know far less German than any German I meet knows English.

    Similarly learning Urdu or Polish at that level doesn’t help you welcome either into your country. The task of learning the language cannot be divided between newcomers and old timers. If each knows how to introduce themselves in the other’s language they’re no better at communicating than if only one does.

    So one or the other has to learn the other’s language more deeply. And that has to be the immigrant.

  16. John77 – only the older ones. No-one learns Russian much nowadays. The Soviets have left, in case you haven’t noticed.

    Also a Pole might understand Russian. But they will pretend not to. Speaking Russian to a Pole is effectively taunting them.

  17. Polish migrants speak excellent English already or if they don’t it’s because it doesn’t matter. Same with Urdu speakers, English Urdu speakers are English, the only Ines who can’t speak English are people it would be little point talking to.

  18. Perhaps they should be taught formal logic, along with the indigenous population. That would have the nice side effect of dooming many politicians.

  19. People do tend to overestimate the usefulness of languages. I’ve learned Russian to way beyond conversational level, and it is generally of fuck-all use professionally unless you’re completely fluent, which takes even more time. For those who’ve become fluent, their language is usually their greatest marketable skill whereas for most people they’d rather be an engineer, lawyer, etc. first and foremost than somebody who is in a generic position because they happen to know the local language, In professions that matter, you are generally allowed to work in English.

    That said, Russian has been brilliant for socialising, getting into mischief, getting myself out of said mischief, and understanding Russia and its culture (which of course helped massively professionally). Languages are worth learning if you have the time and motivation, but they’re not the magic career boost people seem to think they are – except for English, that is.

  20. If you learn Russian, you can be understood by any adult from the Slavonic countries …

    I one had a bet with a Czech girl at a bar in a nightclub at 2am that I could learn the Czech numbers 1 to 10 within a minute if she told them to me. I promised I didn’t know a word of Czech and that was only my second time in the country. The stakes were a drink. I won.

  21. The only point in learning Urdu would be to speak to people who do not, or are not in the process of learning how to, speak English.

    That, primarily, is hard-core Muslim women, who are prevented from working and interacting in any way with men who are not family members. So the effort would be utterly futile for all males Does this shit for brains prof understand this?

  22. Henry Crun – “my eldest is in the final stages of a Physics Masters degree.”

    professor of French philology and linguistics at the university

    Not a post-graduate in Physics.

  23. @ Tim Newman
    My then boss told us (just short of politely insisting) that we must learn how to say “Thank you” in the local language before we travelled. More was preferable but optional.

  24. Ecks

    Have you patented that device? Better hurry as hordes of people will think it’s a brilliant idea

  25. “said it was ‘very important to think of integration as a two-way street.’”

    Quite right – from now on I will be deeply offended whenever I’m in England or abroad if people haven’t made the effort to learn Gaelic so that they can aid my ‘integration’.

  26. It is a two way street. Immigrants come here and learn English, emigrants go to a foreign country and learn their language.

  27. Adrian-
    “Such activities soak resource – particularly time, for which there is an opportunity cost.”
    This.

  28. Languages (lack of) have always been a weakness of mine. Thankfully, given I’ve worked in an international environment for much of my career, 95% of the world’s business community speak better English than I do. It’s British dialects that trouble me.

  29. This is such a ridiculous statement that even a Cambridge professor couldn’t mean it sincerely, so I am going for the bad faith “fuck you proles” interpretation.

  30. Rather interestingly, English is one of the easiest languages to learn at a basic level, and what is more, native English speakers are more tolerant of foreigners speaking it than vice versa – to the point that some English dialects are far more difficult to follow than broken English. Writing is a different matter, and one can easily detect foreigners, and with practice, where they are likely to have originated.
    Mostly when one travels in Europe, the locals one wants to speak to have some English, and in France particularly they are dismissive of one’s efforts. Italians, on the other hand, are delighted when you make the effort (sometimes to the point of giving you a discount on your purchases!). Chinese or Japanese seems to me to be a useful second language for a Brit, or Spanish, as those cover you for major trading nations or South and Central America except Brazil.
    Mostly, your efforts will be greeted by a far more fluent reply in English by someone who wants to practice their skill.
    A friend of mine was in a confrontational business meeting in Italy when he overheard two of the opposition saying that it’s a good job the English don’t speak Italian, which he used to great advantage in the negotiation, as he understood it perfectly!

  31. To me, the English language is a bit like metric measurement: they are both global standards. English is de facto, but still.

    I wouldn’t expect foreigners to understand inches, miles and stones unless they happened to go somewhere where they needed it.

    We just happen to natively speak the language equivalent of metric.

  32. My then boss told us (just short of politely insisting) that we must learn how to say “Thank you” in the local language before we travelled. More was preferable but optional.

    That’s sensible. I even did that for Lithuanian and Kazakh.

  33. Mostly when one travels in Europe, the locals one wants to speak to have some English, and in France particularly they are dismissive of one’s efforts.

    True, but past a certain point they love it. It was a major personal victory for me when French waiters didn’t automatically switch to English.

  34. @Witchie
    As someone who speaks 3 foreign languages. I agree English is easier, we don’t have cases or gender and formation of the future is so much easier than in any latin derived language.

  35. Neat work Ken

    I thought at first, why write a paper stating the bleeding obvious? But its existence means the IRS can profile without chants of ‘racist’

  36. I have travelled all my working life and lived in many countries. In my previous career my empployer befpre a posting paid for a 2-4 week full immersion course in learning the lingo. As a result I amd all my ex-pat colleagues in the field spoke the local languages to a level sufficient that nearly all meetings were held in local (unless there were only ex-pats present) As the local staff also were encouraged to learn and speak English it was all splendid.

    Now I live in Italy, I speak the language fluently enough, and I cannot immagine going to a place to live and not learning the language.

    Re this idiot professor: Rob has nailed it.

    I would just add that she has evidently spent her completely wasted career sucking at the taxpayer teat doing something she evidently feels enormously superior about (rather than IT, engineering plumbing or gardening, which would bring rather more benefit to the populace, if rather less hubristic smugness to the owner) – loathsome excrescences like this bring out the right wing citizen smith in me.

  37. uncle Ted, a pilot, recommended learning two phrases minimum ‘2 beers please’, and ‘my friend will pay’.

  38. I’m a French immigrant, never occurred to me that people here should speak French to me.

    A German niece of mine visited us when she was y8 equivalent. She spoke better English than the kids at the school she attended a few days with her cousins.

  39. Quite aside from the flawed premise (is she saying that more Spanish people need to learn English to accommodate all the Brits on the south coast? No, thought not), she’s also mistakenly assuming that she’s any good at predicting what’s going to be useful in the future. But teachers are shite at that. They were discouraging children from studying graphic design right through the 90s, as it was regarded as fairly useless, then the Web happened. Ditto typography, which teachers regarded as so hopelessly obscure as not to be worth bothering with. And they were pushing kids who were good at science to do the proper useful sciences of physics and chemistry and discouraging them from doing biology, which wasn’t really important, right up till genetic engineering happened.

    So someone who wants to accommodate immigrants spends a load of effort learning Polish and Urdu, and then in ten years we have a massive influx of migrants from Italy and Kazakhstan, and all the Poles and Pakistanis speak fluent English. Useful.

  40. “…people are only smart or clever within their own tiny, self referential worlds. Outside them, they hit the low end of the stupidity scale.”

    That’s true of almost any specialist. Even builders.

    That, Theo, is so untrue it’s out on the other side of nonsense. To be a useful specialist, the wider one’s grasp of the world outside your speciality,the more useful a specialist you are. You are after all, by definition the specialist.You know more about your subject than the people you’re dealing with. If you don’t understand what they’re needs are how the hell are you going to explain to them why your speciality has any use to them?

  41. Did no-one notice this bit?

    “Prof Ayres-Bennett, who also leads the MEITS project promoting multilingualism”

  42. I reckon that once you’re older it might be a good idea to learn whatever languages are most common among care workers or nurses.

    Tagalog and Shona or something Slavic might be a good shout now, but for someone not on the brink of needing their services it could all be different in 20 years.

    I have found that many hospital support staff speak very poor English and moreover being able to converse with someone can be a way of getting more personal attention, so I’m not being utterly flippant.

  43. Obviously would be better if they just spoke fluent English to start with. But once one hits an age where you start getting sucked into hospitals and care homes, you are making a transition into an alien world and it is best to be practical about it…

  44. In the 1980s I learned Japanese because that was the Language Of The Future de jour. Hmmm… Well, it was useful when I first went to Hong Kong as my sister-in-law spoke almost no English and my Cantonese was non-existant, so we communicated in pidgin Japanese, as she had worked in Japan for a years and – like any good immigrant – had learned the local lingo.

  45. S2,

    “But teachers are shite at that.”

    I remember all the stuff we were taught at school about stuff and “this is how business does it”. I protested loudly about having to use fountain pens. “You’ll need one when you get a job”. “not in my dad’s office. they all use biros”.

    Sajid Javid got advised to go into TV repair, but even in the mid-80s that was going into decline. It’s like all these people going to university to do journalism. I’m sure that’s careers advisers who were behind the curve. Arguably more dangerous than kids just finding out for themselves.

    It’s why I more and more believe in a classical education. Teach kids nothing trendy and nothing based on the idea of getting jobs, because teachers have no clue about that, and never have.

  46. @BiW: one has to question how “careers advisors” could ever be a useful job. Surely if you had any clue about “careers” you would pick something other than becoming a careers advisor?

    And most people I know who went into teaching did it because they didn’t research other jobs: teaching was essentially all they knew. Going from school, to uni, back to school does not give one suitable life experience to guide anyone else on their life.

  47. One of the curses of the age is specialists in one area being promoted as knowledgable in others, whereas in fact they are likely to be worse than the average citizen chosen at random – they are likely to know less and have an inflated opinion of their expertise.

  48. If the silly cow wants to make herself useful she should agitate to have the old HP sauce label resurrected, with it’s lovely little bit of French. Many of us could recite it before we started secondary school.

    “Cette sauce de haute qualité est un mélange de fruits orientaux, d’épices et de vinaigre.” Et happy cetera.

    (My memory is lousy, so I lifted that off the interthingy.)

  49. BiW: It’s why I more and more believe in a classical education.

    Enthusiastically seconded. I was lucky to get a little bit of one (because forty-some years ago it was still part of the curriculum), but even so I have spent an enormous amount of time since then filling in the gaps.

    I am often appalled at the ignorance of purportedly well-educated people.

  50. BIW

    “Sajid Javid got advised to go into TV repair”

    Am I alone in bemoaning the fact that the arrogant cvnt didn’t pursue that – for the good of the country?

  51. Surely if you had any clue about “careers” you would pick something other than becoming a careers advisor?

    I made much the same remark to my “careers manager” in my current place of work, shortly before I pointed out that regardless of what she calls herself I actually have a different person managing my career: me.

  52. > In the 1980s I learned Japanese because that was the Language Of The Future de jour.

    Oo, I remember that one.

    > fountain pens. “You’ll need one when you get a job”.

    Blimey. I didn’t get that one.

    > Sajid Javid got advised to go into TV repair

    Seriously? These people are fuckwits.

    > all these people going to university to do journalism.

    Friend of mine has very sensibly moved from journalism into teaching journalism. Says that every now and then one of his students is bright enough to ask him why he did that, and he has to be evasive in response in case the whole house of cards comes tumbling down.

    There’s an argument that a careers advisor could be some use if they had loads of knowledge of the world and told kids about jobs they’d never even heard of. By the time I was at school, a careers advisor was someone who gave you a multiple-choice questionnaire full of tickboxes, scanned it into a computer, and handed you a print-out of the fucking useless results.

    Most of the world’s interesting jobs are things these people have never heard of.

  53. Apparently, the French education system still trains a certain number of girls to be old-school secretaries each year (20k per year, iirc), preparing them for a career that hardly exists any more.

    There was an interesting radio spot on it, contrasting the Swiss approach of the state just accrediting courses and then the various colleges/schools deciding what to offer and to how many students, and Paris micromanaging the course content, number of places etc. leading to this odd situation where they’re preparing girls for a career in the mid-80s.

  54. The Latin I learned at grammar school has, perhaps oddly, been of more use to me than many of other more “relevant” subjects – including the two Modern Foreign Languages that I “learned” (ie enough to write a postcard in, not enough to do anything useful with).

  55. BiS

    “To be a useful specialist, the wider one’s grasp of the world outside your speciality,the more useful a specialist you are.”

    Sometimes, perhaps. But not always.

    “If you don’t understand what they’re (sic) needs are how the hell are you going to explain to them why your speciality has any use to them?”

    Professor Ayres-Bennett will be able to understand the needs of her students and colleagues. Most probably, as a professor in one of the world’s leading universities, she will be skilled at navigating college, faculty and university bureaucracy. And like many dons, she probably has a non-cerebral interest.

    The point I am making is that everyone is prone to make stupid judgements outside of their area(s) of expertise, unless they proceed tentatively. We all – you included – are only smart or clever within our “own tiny, self referential worlds”. So Professor Ayres-Bennett, as an expert on the socio-linguistics of 17thC French (No, me neither!), is not qualified to pontificate on diversity, multi-lingualism and public policy.

  56. Apparently, the French education system still trains a certain number of girls to be old-school secretaries each year (20k per year, iirc), preparing them for a career that hardly exists any more.

    That explains why every department of a large French corporation has about three of them on full time, permanent contracts giving them the full 40 year career…

  57. BiW

    “It’s why I more and more believe in a classical education. Teach kids nothing trendy and nothing based on the idea of getting jobs, because teachers have no clue about that, and never have.”

    Amen to that. Trying make education ‘relevant’ destroys education by turning it into instruction and training in things that soon become irrelevant. Grammar, maths, science, latin, logic, Shakespeare, the AV Bible and some poetry and novels, and, er, that’s it. It will never happen, because it would require academic selection, and the religion of equality damns selection.

  58. @Tim Newman, they’re probably very cheap (market flooded with trained young secretaries due to the low demand), which is cruel to the girls – wasting time preparing them for a low-paid job for which there’s very little demand.

  59. @Theo: oh not bloody Latin. Please no. The horror, the horror.

    P.S. Would you really omit all History and Geography?

    And there really ought to be a ‘doing’ subject there. A spot of metalworking, or plumbing, or soldering circuits, or gardening, or servicing motorbikes, or something. Riding a hoss or sailing a dinghy, even.

  60. I knew a professor whose area of expertise was 19th century prostitution. Still am yet to work out how one would get into that, how others would take it seriously and what possible value he is bringing to himself or the world.

  61. For the past 16 years I’ve worked extensively with African immigrants (Somali mostly) who have settled in Central Ohio. Only once has one of my Somali clients asked me why I haven’t bothered to learn a word of Somali (or Arabic, for that matter). It only took him a moment to process my answer and understand its essential correctness:

    “I’m not planning on moving to Somalia.”

  62. The Latin I learned at grammar school has, perhaps oddly, been of more use to me than many of other more “relevant” subjects…

    The only joy Latin ever brought me was being propositioned by my very attractive Latin professor while at college.

  63. @Dennis, on my youtube channel I make a point of using UK English (simplified for an international audience, so no obscure slang except the odd word that’s obvious) rather than US or some transatlantic mishmash.

    There’s always some twerp who tries to pick me up on it :p “It’s not an X, it’s a Y” (where X and Y are UK/US synonyms).

  64. @Dennis

    Well I hope that brought you a lot of pleasure!!

    Though I didn’t claim the Latin brought me pleasure, merely that it proved useful. A greater word power multiplier than my English lessons were, and probably more helpful with the grammar too. (To be fair the cultural, political, historical, geographical insights those lessons brought were more entertaining than the linguistic aspect – but, much like ox-bow lakes and the dates of various kings, have had less practical value to me.)

  65. When I was at school in the 1980s I’d been programming computers since about 12, semi-officially maintained the school’s computer network and software, a lot of the core infrastructure had been written by me and a couple of friends, I built my own computer peripherals and had made a start on writing articles for computer magazines.

    My careers advisor advised me to go into local government administration.

    “And there really ought to be a ‘doing’ subject there.”
    My school was very good at that. “Jones is crap at maths, get him into the automotive maintanance elective and he’ll learn the practical maths that supports engineering” Results in Jones getting an A in Maths plus an HND Engineering.

    Naturally, shut down as soon as the lefty local council noticed.

  66. Dearieme:

    “Would you really omit all History and Geography?”

    No, my omission. But history should be limited to our island story – and the evolution of anglo-saxon liberty . As for geography, just maps, countries, capitals, rivers and oceans – none of the ‘spatial sociology’ rot.

  67. @Dennis, on my youtube channel I make a point of using UK English (simplified for an international audience, so no obscure slang except the odd word that’s obvious) rather than US or some transatlantic mishmash.

    As a devotee of British humor from childhood on (Alec Guinness and Ealing to Spike Milligan and the Goons to the Monty Python boys), it didn’t take me long to glom onto the fact that British English and American English really are two different languages spoken by two very different peoples.

    Let’s face it, no Brit could ever understand how any American could find the figure of Colonel Nicholson hilarious…

  68. “Apparently, the French education system still trains a certain number of girls to be old-school secretaries each year (20k per year, iirc), preparing them for a career that hardly exists any more.”

    My first boss had one of those. Not a shorthand typist. She typed. But only the stuff she wrote on his behalf (& which he signed, never her) & the occasional very important letter. She basically ran the guy’s life for him. A sort of personal assistant. But very much out of the decision making loop, unless it was in her personal sphere of responsibility.
    Which was, of course, what a proper secretary did. Before people started ostentatiously calling the shorthand typist, who took their dictation, their “secretary”.

  69. @Mal Reynolds

    Some academics are academics for the same reason as mountaineers climb mountains, “because it’s there.” They should be able to teach some more generalist stuff as well, thus covering their regular job. And sometimes esoterica can be useful. And no, I have no idea what use being a prof of 19th c. prostitution would be.

  70. It might make sense to learn Polish, to better get on with the Polish patriots who will be the best possible allies in ridding Britain of the plague of Urdu speaking street shitters.

  71. It might make sense to learn Polish, to better get on with the Polish patriots who will be the best possible allies in ridding Britain of the plague of Urdu speaking street shitters.

  72. I always thought that learning Spanish was the way to go, but that was mainly in case I ever had to flee to Argentina for something I did.

  73. I always thought that learning Spanish was the way to go, but that was mainly in case I ever had to flee to Argentina for something I did.

    Surely Chile would be a better bet nowadays.

    Argentina has been a shit hole since Peron.

  74. “But history should be limited to our island story”: bonkers. No Albigensians, no Jan Huss, no Luther, no Calvin, no St Bartholomew’s Massacre, no Henri IV, no Renunciation of the Edict of Nantes; no Ferdinand and Isabel, no Prince Henry the Navigator, Bartholomew Dias, Vasco da Gama, Columbus, Magellan; no Tycho Brahe, Copernicus, Kepler; no French Revolution, Napoleon, Bismarck, Russian Revolution; …..

  75. Many of those items, dearieme, would crop up as part of our island story – eg Napoleon, Luther, Calvin….To the under-16s I’d teach the basic framework of British history and the history of anglo-saxon liberty. It’s more impotant to know how our institutions evolved than to know about the Albigensians!

  76. John I *said* adult

    And you were still wrong. Unless 25 year-olds are no longer adults.

    I teach kids at High School whose parents are too young to be able remember the collapse of Russian Communism.

  77. @ Chester Draws
    No, they aren’t too young unless they had kids when they were in their early teens (I vaguely remember that, when I was young, one or two US states permitted marriage at 14 or less). I can remember the biggest political events from when I was five.

    There were a lot of Russians and Russian-speakers left in the Comecon states after the fall of the Berlin Wall and Estonia has around 40% ethnic Russians

  78. @Theo: but to teach British history you have to cover the Middle Ages, Renaissance, Reformation, Age of Exploration, and the Enlightenment. Otherwise it would be too dumbed down; an English version of US foundation myths.

  79. “but to teach British history you have to cover the Middle Ages, Renaissance, Reformation, Age of Exploration, and the Enlightenment. Otherwise it would be too dumbed down; an English version of US foundation myths.”

    Of course, you’d have to touch on these things, dearieme. But the narrative of British history should be at the core of the history syllabus for under-16s to ensure the inter-generational transmission of the framework of our culture, including the preservation of constitutional monarchy.

  80. Cuando me mudé a Costa Rica, adivinen cual lengua aprendí? Aquí hay un indicio: no era Urdu.

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