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ANY LANGUAGE BUT MY OWN   8 comments

ANY LANGUAGE BUT MY OWN

In responding to my previous blog, Terry and Leelah raised questions that inspire me to write about one of my gripes.

No, I don’t know the language used in Portugal. They are kind of enough – and happy enough, I guess, to have English-speaking guests – that they post signs in English, and often speak English.

Once I was pretty good at German, so in Austria and Germany I can understand the signage, and often what people are saying if they speak to me with enunciation one would use for a young child.

At one point I did study French – in fact, at many points – and with a lot of help I managed to pass the French exam on which my Ph.D. depended. (The German exam was easy.)

So what’s my gripe? Americans and their linguistic provincialism. That’s OK in a way. We aren’t nestled among countries that speak other languages, so it’s understandable that we don’t emphasize foreign languages in our schools where we could learn them easily when the brain is ready in our young years. It’s also understandable that our schools are beginning now to offer foreign languages. We are, obviously, becoming one world whether people like it or not.

What gripes me is the feeling on the part of some people that immigrants and visitors to the states “should” speak English – a demand we don’t put on ourselves when we travel. As a matter of fact, I make a point to thank people in other countries who speak to me in English.

Provincialism? One of my web friends identified herself as Norwegian. Her English is impeccable. In fact, she does most of her writing – at least what I see – in English. So I assumed she lived in Minnesota where the descendants of immigrants proudly declare themselves to be Norwegians, or Swedes, or Germans, or what have you. Bu no, she really is Norwegian.

These days I hear and see interviews on the media with people from all over the world. Guess what! They speak English. I often wonder if people listening appreciate that fact. What a gift to us that they speak our language.

OK, so this isn’t the well-organized piece I’d like to be writing, but I hope you get my drift.

One last story. My father who moved to the States from Sweden when he was 19 wouldn’t teach me Swedish. Why? Because he had suffered so much disdain for his Swedish accent. As a matter of fact, he went to college with two primary goals, one of which was to learn to speak English without an accent. And he did. The only piece left was a remnant of the delightful Scandinavian lilt. What is it about language snobbery that prevents our appreciating the skill and knowledge of multilingual folks?

Oh, I guess this is a p.s. It was in Bulgaria that we found very few (if any) signs in English. I’ll have my story in a later blog on how this affected our time there. Suffice it to say, the message is they aren’t yet crazy about entertaining English-speaking visitors. I guess that makes sense too – a country proudly re-establishing its heritage after years under the Ottoman empire and then Communist rule.

I’m told that when I write a letter of complaint, I should end it with a bit on what I want the recipient to do. So, what do I want us to do? At the very least, to appreciate the value of other languages as well as our own, to treat both with respect, and to do a better job than I have of learning languages other than English.

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