One Rant at a Time

Whatever heaves into view........better keep its head down.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

"Fog in Channel; Continent cut off"

This headline both amused and irritated me. It seems that a whopping 33% of French people don't speak English. Shock! Outrage! Pompous letters to the Times!

Equally, a survey by Eurobarometer last year showed that in general only half of all Europeans can speak any foreign language, and that the British and Hungarians were the worst offenders.

So what's wrong with the French? Nothing at all. What irritates me is the vague sense of superiority that the British still manage to hold onto, because their language is the most widely-spoken European language (we won't bring the Chinese into this).

In fact, it's worse than that: there's a certain arrogance that hangs over from the days of Empire, that tells us that we don't have to speak a foreign language because they all speak ours. And stories like this one merely serve to reinforce that belief.

I'm sure you've all seen this little vignette play itself out on the streets of continental Europe. A British tourist politely asks for directions from local, whose shrug and mystified expression betrays the fact that he doesn't understand. So the British tourists repeats his question, speaking more slowly and loudly, the idea being that this poor foreign type surely will understand if the words are enunciatd more carefully. Same result.

I think the headline misses the point completely. It's not that too many French people don't speak English, it's that no enough English speak any foreign language at all. Why do you think there are more Dutch people living and working here than there are British folk working in Holland? Why is it that wised-up Belgians can move effortlessly from France to Germany to Holland and be at home in each country?

Purely and simply, because they've worked out what it takes to get ahead. The mountain doesn't come to Mohammed, so Mohammed must go to the mountain. The French probably have a much better record when it comes to speaking German, or Spanish. The Dutch are positively cosmopolitan. In fact, the only country that may be worse than Britain when it comes to speaking a foreign language may be the United States. Can anyone else spot a connection here?

The one thing the British and French do share, however, is a misguided sense of their own importance in the world that stems from the days of Empire. The French talked about "rayonnement", the spreading of their culture to the dark corners of the earth like the rays of the sun. The British established the British Institute to do much the same thing.

Yet today, the complaint is that "the dominance of English is a source of resentment for certain representatives from different EU countries. It is discriminatory and undermines the principle of equal opportunities for all." So we know who won that particular battle.

The result is that evolution and history have made the British lazy when it comes to languages, and until we find the way to change this, we're going to end up second-best when we are playing away. A German comes to London, and honours his hosts by speaking their language. When a Briton goes to Hamburg, can he do the same?


At 9:19 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You idiot. Out of around 197 countries in the world (I say around because its quite changeable lately), Britain and France come in the top ten for everything.
Of course they're not superpowers, but they are still highly important. Typical ignorant leftist.

At 4:48 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Typically ignorant right-wing tool. Go back to crawling under your rock D-dd-d-dd-dick Cheney.


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