But our European neighbours also learn English in large numbers, and soon the only monoglots left will be British. A monolingual society in Britain is no more likely to be successful than those that exist in the Amazon jungle and New Guinea. The upper classes will presumably continue to cultivate languages because elites know how to reproduce themselves (the present cabinet is the most polyglot in recent history). But schools are failing everybody else by not insisting that a far larger proportion of the rising generation acquire a good knowledge of at least one foreign tongue.
The one no one ever seems to have an answer to is, OK, but which foreign language?
And no, from bitter personal experience I will not accept the answer that having learnt some of one then learning some of another is easier. It ain\’t.
So, let\’s work from personal experience here. As a child I learnt a little bit of Italian. Only a bit mind. Then at school some French. Very much schoolboy French but it\’s enough that if I go and actually stay in France then after a couple of weeks I\’m just about able to tell a joke in a pub. This ain\’t fluency by any means.
Then I worked in Russia for a time. Learnt enough Russian to have business meetings in the language but not the social language. I can\’t discuss Dostoyevsky in Russian for example. But then I can\’t do that in English either. Living in Portugal has given me supermarket Portuguese. I can get my meat cut the right way, order bottles of gas etc. But I actually live and work in English so no more than that. And now I\’m in Czech and German. I actually find the former easier (although I\’m told that I speak my few words of it with a terrible Russian accent that doesn\’t go down well) and the latter, well, sorry, I just don\’t get it at all. I can, for example, count in Czech but not in German.
So, to those who insist that I should have learnt a language other than English properly. Which one? Over the past 50 years, which one should I have put the couple of thousand hours of study into? That couple of thousand hours which is necessary (ie, that\’s a full working year) to gain some reasonable level of fluency? I would assume that no one at all thinks I should have tried to learn all six.
Or, more pithily, if the English must learn another language, which fucking one?