Monday, September 26, 2011

The European Day of Languages

Today, September 26th, is the tenth annual European Day of Languages (or, because the French don't really recognize the existence and validity of other languages, Journée Européenne des Langues), a day on which Europeans of all ages are encouraged to learn more languages. According to the official website, the general objectives of the day are:

- To alert the public to the importance of language learning and diversifying the range of languages learnt in order to increase plurilingualism and intercultural understanding;

- To promote the rich linguistic and cultural diversity of Europe, which must be preserved and fostered; and,

- To encourage lifelong language learning in and out of school, whether for study purposes, for professional needs, for purposes of mobility or for pleasure and exchanges.

Having lived in Europe for many years, I can attest that most Europeans are at least bilingual, and most younger people have at least a basic knowledge of two or more languages in addition to their own. I can also attest that most Europeans are astounded to find an American who is conversant in anything other than English.

The general European attitude toward learning multiple languages is understandable, as there are a great many nations and ethnic groups rubbing up against each other in a fairly small area. If you are a European and travel more than a few hours in any direction, you are likely to find yourself in a place where your native language isn't spoken, and it behooves you to learn another language or two in addition to your own. The same attitude isn't generally held in America, where (unless you leave the country, which most Americans don't do) you can find English spoken everywhere. The importance of learning another language isn't recognized by most Americans, unless it's as a result of the unchecked flood of immigrants (both legal and illegal) from Latin America which has made bilingual signage necessary in much of the country.

I started learning German in high school, mostly because I was fascinated by the language as a result of hearing it spoken on the World War II-themed television shows popular in the mid-60's. I studied Russian because my Foreign Language Linguistics degree program at Penn State required me to study two langages. The Russian - except for stock phrases, songs, and the ability to sight-read the Cyrillic alphabet - is pretty much dormant because I don't have much opportunity to use it, but my German is conversationally fluent (marrying a German and having German friends will do that).

So ...

Learn a second ... and even a third ... language. It will expand your horizons, amaze foreigners who don't expect you to know anything other than English, and allow you to enjoy those turkey franks ...

Have a good day. More thoughts (mainly in English) tomorrow.



Margaret (Peggy or Peg too) said...

Do I need to wait until I master the 1st one?

John said...

You know the saying:
A person that speaks several languages is call multi-lingual.
A person that speaks two languages is called bilingual.
A person that speaks only one language is called an American!

Duckbutt said...

Americans are frequently exposed to linguistic minorities in their own country: Spanish-speakers in the South and Southwest, French-speakers in Louisiana, valley girls, and New Yorkers. There's more of an informal acquisition of these linguistic skills; anyway, the Spanish spoken by people in everyday use and the`formal classroom Spanish are often a bad fit. Only quasi-official groups like the Franch Academy would place the primacy on the formal language.

Svejk said...

For Americans, knowing a foregin language seems to be reduced to knowing French, German, or (mostly) Spanish.

Mike said...

"increase plurilingualism"

Is that even legal?

eViL pOp TaRt said...

Does speaking a patois of a language count? Not to the Europeans, I suspect. As Francois Villon observed, "There is no good [French] speech except in Paris."