Concerns From The EU Administrative Capital About The Dominance Of English

eu_flag_web.jpgA recent article in the Economist dealt with some consequences of the rise of English, specifically in Europe. The European Union now has 27 member states with 23 different official languages, but this seems to be resulting in less linguistic diversity rather than more, at least in official meetings.

I found a few interesting points:

  • “It is also hard work for even the best non-native speakers to understand other non-native versions of English, whereas it is no great strain for the British or Irish to decipher the various accents.” I’d say not necessarily; learning a second or third or fourth language tends to make you a better communicator. Some accents prove challenging for anyone to understand.
  • “Britain enjoys hidden transfers from its neighbours [via language schools] worth billions of euros a year, thanks to the English language”. I’m from the US, don’t ask me! Seriously though, you cannot deny there are very obvious economic benefits when many want to learn a language…but unless Esperanto takes off, it just seems like a practical reality that one country (or a couple) will benefit from people needing to learn its/their language. Even with Esperanto, it seems likely that some countries would benefit more than others. I don’t doubt that some countries exist very successfully and peacefully with multiple languages, but my experience with human nature so far tells me that learning multiple languages (more so than many people already do) will not be a hit on a global scale.

Perhaps the most serious comment is that ““English, in effect, blocks the learning of other language…People say, ‘well, I speak English and I have no need to learn another language.’”

I think this is true, and not only for native speakers, though I might frame it as “the popularity of English” rather than “English” itself. Those who have gone to the trouble of learning English well enough to work in it may ask why they should go through all that again. I think there is a fairly obvious incentive to learn whichever language is considered the most used – as above, the alternative (another language) would not necessarily ensure linguistic diversity in the world…it would likely just replace English as the “main” language.

A couple other points occur to me:

  • It seems logical that as fewer people learn a particular language, the more valuable those who can speak it will become.
  • The fact that it makes sense for many people to learn English should not preempt efforts of countries with other languages to promote their languages, and in fact it is all the more important to do so.
  • Lastly, hey, if everyone stopped wanting to learn English, I’d be out of business!

What do you think?