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ANTHONY BROWNE: Waste your life, learn to speak a foreign language
The Times ^ | December 23, 2002 | Anthony Browne

Posted on 12/23/2002 6:41:07 AM PST by MadIvan

We all know le problème: we are a nation of monoglots, linguistically challenged and so culturally inferior and economically constrained. Only one in four of us can claim to speak in foreign tongues, whereas our chic European chums babble away in a veritable Babel. European governments have lobbied, and the British Government has responded: from 2010 every primary school shall teach foreign. It’s a further good intention paving the road to ruin of our education system. We should shrug off our linguistic hang-ups, and instead of reinforcing language teaching, abolish it tout de suite.

Ordering everyone to learn another language is as pointless as ordering everyone to dig holes and fill them up. The reward for our ancestors persuading the rest of the world to speak English is that there is no need for us to learn what the rest of the world speaks.

All the time we spend learning another language, we should spend instead learning something useful — like economics, business studies, politics, law or computer science. If everyone in the country were forced to study economics as remorselessly as they are forced to learn French, then Britain would be in a far better state (true reform of the NHS would have happened decades ago).

Learning another language may make you feel clever, but it is no longer necessary for speaking with the foreigners you’re most likely to want to speak to: the educated and those working in tourism. Ever regretted you didn’t spend years learning German because of problems communicating with German labourers? I thought not.

I spent three hours a week for six years learning French, but it has proved a total waste of time. I have only needed it on a handful of occasions, and even then it was tourist French learnable in a couple of weeks. I have family friends in France, and have had many enjoyable conversations with our Gallic neighbours, but always in English. I have extended family in Norway and Denmark, but hardly speak either language because I never get the chance: all my Scandinavian relatives speak perfect English.

In contrast to all our continental cousins, Britain is part of the Anglosphere, by far the most powerful linguistic bloc in the world: the US, the UK, Canada, Australia, Ireland and New Zealand — as well as countries such as South Africa and India where English is the language of business and politics. Three of the G7 countries are anglophone.

Even outside the Anglosphere you can thrive with impunity as an English monoglot: you can work with no problems in the European Commission, the European Central Bank and countless multinational companies around the world. There is no obvious alternative language — French is only useful in a couple of developed countries and North Africa, and Spanish helps you on holiday in Cuba.

Don’t get me wrong: I understand the smug satisfaction of mastering another tongue, but it is damaging to force it on the entire population. European children spend 15 per cent of their time learning foreign languages by the age of ten — imagine the advantages we would have if our kids did something more interesting in that time than learning how to ask for un café.

The Government is swimming against the tide of history: as more people learn English, the more pointless it is for Britons to learn another language. There are fewer and fewer people in the world worth speaking to who don’t speak English. Already the number of people studying languages at A level in Britain is plummeting.

The Government’s recent announcement that it is no longer compulsory to learn a foreign language up to GCSE is a welcome dose of reality. But it should go the whole hog, and stop forcing everyone to learn useless knowledge that they will never need, and hardly ever use.


TOPICS: Culture/Society; Editorial; Foreign Affairs; News/Current Events; US: District of Columbia; United Kingdom
KEYWORDS: english; foreigners; language; unnecessary
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And also, our refusal to speak any other language drives the French and Germans absolutely barmy. ;)

Regards, Ivan


1 posted on 12/23/2002 6:41:07 AM PST by MadIvan
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To: BigWaveBetty; widgysoft; Da_Shrimp; BlueAngel; JeanS; schmelvin; MJY1288; terilyn; Ryle; ...
Bump!
2 posted on 12/23/2002 6:41:39 AM PST by MadIvan
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To: MadIvan
LOL!
3 posted on 12/23/2002 6:43:05 AM PST by NewCenturions
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Comment #4 Removed by Moderator

To: MadIvan
And also, our refusal to speak any other language drives the French and Germans absolutely barmy. ;)

Hehehehehe.....

5 posted on 12/23/2002 6:46:22 AM PST by Overtaxed
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To: MadIvan
Now if y'all could just learn to speak it right, lak we do! :-)
6 posted on 12/23/2002 6:50:46 AM PST by Doug Loss
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To: MadIvan
I took four years of high school German and two years of college German ...

.. and learned just enough to converse with a five-year old German child the only time I was ever reasonably successful in using it.

Otherwise, I knew just enough to get myself in trouble trying to speak to real Germans.

Although I was pretty good with "ein schnitzel mit pommes frites" and "ein bier, bitte" ... not to mention "Wo is der Bahnhof?"

7 posted on 12/23/2002 6:51:27 AM PST by BlueLancer
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To: MadIvan
One plus for learning a foreign language is it's good exercise for your mind and brain. Helps your intellect grow. I still know some of the French I was taught in grade school though I have hardly used it since.
However this article is a good joust at politically correct polyglotism.
8 posted on 12/23/2002 6:51:39 AM PST by dennisw
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To: dennisw
Eco - Writings: "Polyglot Federation"
... The challenge for Europe is finding political unity through polyglotism.
Even if the decision is made to speak Esperanto at the ...
www.themodernword.com/eco/eco_polyglot.html - 24k - Cached - Similar pages

9 posted on 12/23/2002 6:52:32 AM PST by dennisw
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To: MadIvan
I do agree that a second, or third, language isn't for everone.

I do beg to differ slightly about the value of learning a second language. Learning French has taught me more about the roots and structure of English than I ever learned in class. I think I am a better writer in English because of my studies in French.

French also helps with the cooking. Good chocolate, ne-c'est-pas? (No ne-c'est-pas, Hershey's)

Garde la Foi, mes amis! Nous nous sommes les sauveurs de la République! Maintenant et Toujours!
(Keep the Faith, my friends! We are the saviors of the Republic! Now and Forever!)

LonePalm, le Républicain du verre cassé (The Broken Glass Republican)

10 posted on 12/23/2002 6:54:56 AM PST by LonePalm
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To: dennisw
I have to say I would approach this article with one caveat - the best foreign language to learn is Latin.

Latin helps you understand grammar, and opens up the world of antiquity. Also, studies have shown that American students who learn Latin have higher SAT scores.

So, let's abolish French on the curriculum and put back in Latin and perhaps Ancient Greek.

Regards, Ivan

11 posted on 12/23/2002 6:55:54 AM PST by MadIvan
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To: MadIvan
I think the only language worth learning other than English is Latin. Even though it is not being spoken outside of a Tridentine Mass, Latin is at the heart of medical and legal studies. Research has proven that kids who study Latin score higher on college entrance exams.
12 posted on 12/23/2002 6:56:49 AM PST by Slyfox
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To: MadIvan
- the best foreign language to learn is Latin.

*cough*...ahem. And Irish! ;-)

13 posted on 12/23/2002 6:57:45 AM PST by Happygal
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To: MadIvan
You read my mind as I was writing.
14 posted on 12/23/2002 6:57:45 AM PST by Slyfox
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To: MadIvan
A couple of men were standing on a street corner in New York. A tourist from Europe approached them and asked, in French, how to get to Times Square. Both men shook their heads to indicate that they didn't understand what the tourist was saying.

The tourist asked the same question, but this time in German. Again, the Americans shook their heads sympathetically and apologized. The tourist tried asking the question in Spanish, then Italian, and finally in Russian, without any success. Finally, he threw up his hands in exasperation and walked away.

"It really is a shame that we Americans are so ignorant," one man said to the other, "We really should make an effort to learn foreign languages so we can communicate with people from other countries."

"Why bother?" the other man said, "Look at that poor bastard -- he spoke five different languages, but it didn't do him any good!"

15 posted on 12/23/2002 6:59:35 AM PST by Alberta's Child
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To: MadIvan
I'm learning ASL, sign language, and loving it.
16 posted on 12/23/2002 7:00:24 AM PST by MadelineZapeezda
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To: MadIvan
HOO-Friggin'-RAY.....I always thought the same way...Why learn some useless language when you are never going to use or have any need to use it. I must say, however, that living in Texas, it would be nice to know how to order a hamburger in spanish, since all the ignorants from Mexico cannot or will not learn English.

We need an English only law....

17 posted on 12/23/2002 7:01:53 AM PST by B.O. Plenty
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To: MadIvan
Two languages that I've always wanted to learn...Latin and Ancient Greek. It's amazing how many languages can be understood with Latin.
18 posted on 12/23/2002 7:04:31 AM PST by IYAS9YAS
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To: MadIvan
And also, our refusal to speak any other language drives the French and Germans absolutely barmy. ;)

Well, that is reason alone not to learn another language.

19 posted on 12/23/2002 7:11:34 AM PST by Skooz
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To: dennisw
"it's good exercise for your mind and brain. Helps your intellect grow"

Amen to that. For no apparent logical reason, I'm trying to learn Cantonese. It's driving me mad but keeping my concentration!
20 posted on 12/23/2002 7:12:28 AM PST by NewCenturions
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To: MadIvan
It always drives my Spanish-speaking wife nuts when I tell her that if something is important enough to be said, it will be said in English.

;-)

21 posted on 12/23/2002 7:14:29 AM PST by white trash redneck
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To: MadIvan
That's enough for me!
22 posted on 12/23/2002 7:16:06 AM PST by Republic of Texas
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To: MadIvan
Y'all speak English? How come we caint make hide nor hair of it half the time? And I know them Scots aint speakin no English,leastwise not from this century.
23 posted on 12/23/2002 7:16:57 AM PST by Cleburne
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To: B.O. Plenty
I don't know about the spelling, but try amborgesa con queso. Pappas? Se pappas con bebito media. That's if you want the combo with fries and a drink.
24 posted on 12/23/2002 7:19:03 AM PST by Republic of Texas
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To: MadIvan
A guidance counselor at our local university once told me that he spent eight years learning French. A few years later, he and a friend were traveling in Quebec and stopped to help a French-speaking motorist whose car had broken down.

Using his best French, the counselor explained that he and his friend would telephone for help for the motorist. The Frenchman could not understand him. He tried again and again to explain. NADA!

Finally, his buddy took over the conversation, and in perfect simulation of using a phone, pointing to the distressed car, and smiling at the Frenchman, the buddy solved the language barrier.

(The counselor did say that at least he could order from a French menu and impress women with what appeared to be his vast command of a foreign language.)
25 posted on 12/23/2002 7:19:23 AM PST by kitkat
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To: MadIvan
Spanish is by far the only foreign language for Americans to learn. It is basically Latin, as it developed over 2000 years, but is simpler, easier to spell and pronounce...and like English has become a "good language to speak badly."

With French and German, there is no level of proficiency that any Anglophone is likely to attain, that will result in anything more than being laughed at and thought pathetic, and having the nearest English speaker called over.

With Spanish, it is useful right here at home, has all the educational advantages of Latin as far as etymology etc...and yet opens a whole new world south of the border, where it often IS really needed...now if they would just make Portuguese more similar to it, so that really it might do even in Brazil...

Oh BTW it seemed to be surprisingly useful even in ITALY! What was I saying about it being basically just Latin?

26 posted on 12/23/2002 7:22:26 AM PST by crystalk
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To: MadIvan

I suffered through six years of Spanish and the only thing I know how to say is "I wish to drink all your beer and make love to your sister". 

I have to say that experience has taught me you're probably better off NOT knowing how to say that.

Owl_Eagle

”Guns Before Butter.”

27 posted on 12/23/2002 7:23:05 AM PST by South Hawthorne
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To: dennisw
I learned more English in Latin classes than in all my English classes combined. For some reason, though, I've never had a chance to use my Latin.

Semper ubi sub ubi!

28 posted on 12/23/2002 7:29:39 AM PST by PeoplesRepublicOfWashington
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To: MadIvan
I love this article!! There is the British lion still.

"We have no fear of the Hottentot, for we've the Maxim gun, and they do not"

Teasing the good old froggy's is such fun.

Regards, and have a great holiday. Hope you get what you want on Boxing Day.

29 posted on 12/23/2002 7:29:58 AM PST by Jimmy Valentine
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To: Owl_Eagle
All this is going to sound so silly some day when we hear reports that the FBI and CIA are stretched too thin to be effective in stemming the tide of xyz with the lack of qualified translators/interrogators/analysts with command of the spanish/portuguese/indonesian/malay/chinese/pilipino/etc/fillinyournextterroristbastion languages.
30 posted on 12/23/2002 7:30:51 AM PST by epluribus_2
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To: MadIvan
I spent three hours a week for six years learning French, but it has proved a total waste of time.

What an astute observation. I no longer encourage students/adults to learn foreign language as it is truly a waste of time. Mostly, it wastes my time as I have to work too hard to teach them when they don't want to learn.

I would say something about the uselessness of French AND German in the U.S. as we are demographically overrun with Spanish-speaking individuals who have little or no interest in learning English, but I'd get flamed.

31 posted on 12/23/2002 7:34:26 AM PST by MeneMeneTekelUpharsin
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To: B.O. Plenty
...will not learn English.

Shhhhhh...don't tell anybody what's happening. It will make them angry.

32 posted on 12/23/2002 7:36:34 AM PST by MeneMeneTekelUpharsin
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To: MadIvan
So, let's abolish French on the curriculum and put back in Latin and perhaps Ancient Greek.

Finally, something on this thread I agree with. Although, I do like Italian and Spanish. French, OTOH, is a pain.
33 posted on 12/23/2002 7:38:28 AM PST by Desdemona
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To: MadIvan
Also, studies have shown that American students who learn Latin have higher SAT scores.

That type of effect and cause logic would make any liberal happy. :-).

Through watching foreign films and carefully reading the subtitles, I am making progress on understanding the native language of another country. I'm just confused about why they call their language English. It barely sounds like the language I speak. Fortunately, I am able to decipher some of the words when spoken slowly and clearly.

After three years of high school German, I still remember more German from Hogan's Heros reruns than from school.

34 posted on 12/23/2002 7:42:15 AM PST by KarlInOhio
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To: MadIvan
and Spanish helps you on holiday in Cuba.

or Miami.

35 posted on 12/23/2002 7:43:07 AM PST by mc5cents
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To: NewCenturions
Major props to you! Learning Chinese (Cantonese) is much harder than any European language. Learning a foreign language stretches your thinking capacity the same way learning the violin or piano is supposed to make your math ability better. The above is speculative however many swear by it.
36 posted on 12/23/2002 7:56:35 AM PST by dennisw
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To: Happygal
*cough*...ahem. And Irish! ;-)

For me, yes, mo mhile gra. But not for everyone. ;)

Love, Ivan

37 posted on 12/23/2002 8:08:15 AM PST by MadIvan
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Comment #38 Removed by Moderator

Comment #39 Removed by Moderator

To: MadIvan
All the French an American needs to know (modify the first phrase for other Anglophone nationalities):

Je suis American--I am an American.

Je pa parle Francais--I don't speak French (Yes, I know it's ungrammatical, but my French-Canadian brother-in-law assures me that it's understandable).

Parlez vous Anglais, le langue du monde?--Do you speak English, the world language? (They're not going to like you anyway, so let's rub it in!)

40 posted on 12/23/2002 8:22:39 AM PST by Doug Loss
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To: Happygal
*cough*...ahem. And Irish! ;-)

Tigim leat go hiomlan.

41 posted on 12/23/2002 8:27:59 AM PST by anatolfz
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Comment #42 Removed by Moderator

Comment #43 Removed by Moderator

Comment #44 Removed by Moderator

To: MadIvan
Ah...A subject I like. I agree with the Latin study proposal. I had 4 years of it and it does what you and others say. It makes you understand grammar and language as an independent thing.

I don't agree with the premise that modern language study is a waste of time. Requiring all students in high school to take a foriegn language is a waste of time, but on an individual basis, acquiring speaking knowledge of another language is a very rewarding experience. I think Mark Twain said," Acquiring another language is like getting another soul". He learned German late in life like I did.

He also said something to the effect that one had to wait for the second act of a Wagnerian opera to get to the verb.

I also believe that language shapes an individual's perception of the world. The exactitude of the German language parallels and probably accounts for their renowned precision.

The most widely spoken language in the world is and will always be broken English, however. For non-English speakers, learning some English is a must.

45 posted on 12/23/2002 8:39:46 AM PST by JeanLM
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Comment #46 Removed by Moderator

To: MadIvan
A good friend of mine spoke fluent Japanese. He was stationed in Japan and worked with Japanese contractors. They thought he was a typical English only Yank and spoke freely in front of him, insulting him and taking about how they were fleecing the Americans. He passed on the information and the information was discretely used. About three months before he left (after three years) he started speaking to them. The loss of face was overwhelming and many lost their jobs because the investigation of price fixing was a done deal.
47 posted on 12/23/2002 9:43:29 AM PST by KeyWest
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To: MadIvan

And also, our refusal to speak any other language drives the French and Germans absolutely barmy. ;)

LOL!!
 
I loved the article for all its politically incorrect bluster and heartily agree. But, as I'm fluent in several languages and always trying to learn more, I must add that if one has an interest in it, it is only a rewarding endeavor.

48 posted on 12/23/2002 10:02:07 AM PST by AnnaZ
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To: MadIvan
I wish I knew Hebrew (more than a few dozen words of it) and Gaelic, but I struggled with German to cover my language requirement. Foreign languages are one thing I struggle with.

I agree that German and French are becomming less and less useful. OTOH, various Chinese dialects, Japanese, and Russian, among others, are very useful. And I dare say we could use a few more people with at least a reading knowledge of Arabic.
49 posted on 12/23/2002 10:12:29 AM PST by Celtjew Libertarian
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Comment #50 Removed by Moderator


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