British Attitudes to foreign languages. Why is it that we English have a very cavalier attitude to languages.
By this I mean why do we assume that where ever we go in the world somebody will speak English?
On my many holidays to Spain I have had to listen to my fellow country men and women embarrass themselves or abuse the natives of the country they are visiting because of there lack of, or unwillingness to learn another language.
I think its called Ignorance!
If you where asked a question by a foreign visitor in your home town, but asked in Spanish, French, German or whatever you´d probably tell them to sling their hook, or words to that effect. So why do we expect the nationals of the country we are visiting to do so for us?
Would you think it rude of them to expect you to answer them in their language?
If your answer is “yes”, then you´re probably one of the people I am talking about. The type of person who has no foreign language skills or the type of person who thinks shouting and pointing and hurling abuse is normal behaviour in a foreign country. The type of person that won´t even learn how to say “please” or “thank you”.
Until, maybe 8 years ago I would have put myself in that category as well. Going to France or Spain and being like some Colonial ignoramus, shouting at the native people and hurling abuse if they didn´t understand you.
For an example, lets take Spain.
The main reason most of us go to Spain is for the warm weather, the second reason is because most of the local people in the resorts speak English.
However, would it be wrong if you where forced to speak Spanish? No!
If you travel away from the resorts inland you will find less and less people who can speak English, In some places nobody speaks English. This is because its Spain and their language is Spanish.
If you speak the local language you will get a lot further than if you don´t. Even the resort staff will be nicer to you if you speak a basic amount of their language. Say enough to ask for a drink or a meal in Spanish.
The reason I have learnt other languages is not out of necessity but out of embarrassment. I was ashamed of my language skills, not being able to ask for anything. So I learnt some Spanish, then a bit more, and a bit more, now I am very confident and speak very good Spanish. This makes my holiday better, as I don´t have to point or shout to get what I want, I just say it.
I am not saying that we are all ignorant, but compared to other nationalities we are dinosaur´s in the language department.
I am not saying we should all run out to our local college and take up night school courses but even just learning the basics, like “Hello”, “Goodbye”, “How are you”, “Please” or “Thank you”, makes us look like we are making an effort to speak the language of the country we are in.
Try going to Japan and leaving the big cities and not speaking Japanese and see how far you get. Not as far as in Spain. Other countries are just as bad. If you go to Germany and don´t speak German the majority of Germans won´t make the effort to speak English.
A little bit of language knowledge goes a long way, and won´t make you look like a colonial British idiot.