Speaking a foreign language- Is it important nowadays?

September 4, 2012 1:30 pm

This is a subject which has been on my mind a lot recently, particularly with the world’s attention currently fixed firmly on the British Isles. It is virtually impossible to miss the words ‘Olympic games’ and ‘Team GB’ which have been splashed across the media for months now. (If you have so far managed to avoid it, I have two questions for you; 1) where have you been living?! 2) Can I stay with you and sleep on your sofa for a while?)

With all this bustle over the forthcoming events, not to mention the diamond Jubilee and last year’s royal wedding, it feels as though the world has truly gone Britain mad. UK Government forces have literally imposed themselves on various countries in a bid to strengthen and promote further business relations between the UK and the rest of the world. In other words, our government are using this period to spread the British spirit far and wide and rape (whoops, I mean reap) as much money as they can from the rest of the world. And while it seems everyone else is waving their patriotic flags and singing ‘God save the Queen’, I can’t help but feel just a little bit disassociated from everyone else.
I love the United Kingdom, I truly do. This quaint little tea drinking Isle, with our inability to look each other in the eye on the tube, and the rain which falls 347 days out of a year. I also love the English language – God knows, I even did a degree in it. Yet despite this, I can’t understand why we can’t just keep to ourselves – and you America, I’m addressing you too! It feels as though everyone speaks English, and as someone who takes an interest in different cultures, languages and delicacies, I am worried about the effect this is rapidly having on the world. I will give you an example of what I mean; I was recently unashamedly Facebook stalking a Japanese distant friend of the family – let’s just call her Maiko. Without any exaggeration at all, this twenty year old writes better English than more than half the people I know. I am not sure what reflection this casts upon me and my fellow native English associates, but it really is quite impressive. As someone who makes a regular occurrence on my newsfeed, I am not a stranger to her check-ins at Starbucks, her excitement at Lady Gaga’s tour, alongside comments about how delicious Reece’s peanut butter cups are. Place her statuses alone next to those from any native English speaker and you wouldn’t guess that she has never left Tokyo. Yet how many English people do you know who speak Japanese? I counted two.
The crux of the matter is that us Brits are incredibly lazy when it comes to learning a foreign language ourselves. Previously, I myself was subject to this opinion and distinctly remember venturing around Paris as a seventeen year old, armed only with the words ‘Bonjour’ and ‘Je suis Anglais’. No attempt was made prior to the trip to politely learn a little of the language, and I was certainly no Rosetta Stone in my GCSE Spanish lessons. Yet as the years have gone on, a new-found desire to learn a new language has begun to burn within me. Perhaps it is having a Croatian boyfriend who is so passionate about life and learning new things or maybe it’s listening to Djokovic’s sexy accent as he comes off court – who the hell knows, but there is no escaping this feeling. I truly believe that learning a new language is the key to a whole new world of poetry, music and ideas. There are expressions of thought which only exist in other languages and single words which encapsulate entire meanings. For example, did you know that in German ‘Weltanschauuung’ is a term used to describe nostalgia for a place you are already in, but which is different to how it once was? Or that in Congo, ‘Ilunga’ is used to describe somebody who will easily forgive abuse for the first time, tolerate it a second time but never put up with it for a third time. Fascinating eh? This is why it is important to preserve languages. In addition to this, they hold the key to the histories of whole civilisations, such as how specific tribes came and left their mark on the language. To lose this, is to lose who we are.
I asked my former housemate who arrived in the UK two years ago from Luxembourg whether she plans on teaching her future child(ren) her native language. She explained that she would like to, but acknowledges that it would be an unlikely and difficult task if she were to stay in the UK. So my advice is to be proud of your language, keep it alive and, if, like me, you can only speak English, then take the effort to learn another language. I personally can’t wait to begin my Spanish language course! Tener cuidado!
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