The Paradox of Language: America v. Europe

English at Home and Abroad

I want to start off by saying that I have a deep respect for languages. I have a strong interest in learning as many as possible and about learning about the cultures that correspond with language. I am a strong supporter of having a multilingual population. But despite my fascination with language, I have to admit that we have a problem, both here in the United States and across the pond in Europe. In America we do not have enough respect for our language, but in Europe language is so strongly bound culturally that if you travel far from your home, few people are likely to be able to understand you.

America: i luv u see u @ home tmrw

American English has really deteriorated over time. I find that in general, Americans do not like to write or speak in complete sentences and often say things that do not make sense. Some of my favorites are "I seen it" "I axed him a question" or "I am going to watch there dog this week" But in all seriousness, we have to admit that as a society we do not place much respect on our language here. The blame for this probably lies somewhere between our lackluster public education system and social media, but rather than pointing fingers, I feel that we should look for a solution so that Americans can begin to speak properly again.

Europe: Ich kann das nicht verstehen! 

Europeans place such emphasis on speaking properly and for that, I think that Americans owe them a lot of respect. But at the same time, the wide variety of languages spoken across the continent can cause so much confusion for people. Even within countries there are often so many dialects of a single language that traveling 50 kilometers can cause a linguistic nightmare.

This map is completely overwhelming to me. It shows the various languages that are dominant in any given part of Europe. Notice again that the colors of language groups do not neatly fit within national borders. This can cause political and administrative nightmares for the people of Europe. Languages and dialects are so important to Europeans, but they are so specific that they cause problems. 

Now What? 

I think that America and Europe both have an opportunity to learn from one another. First I want to point out that in Europe, about 51% of the population are proficient with English. According to the New York Times, in America, only 20% of people can hold a conversation in a language other than English. I believe that these two numbers point towards a solution. 

In Europe we can say that most people are at least proficiently bilingual. My idea is to further expand English education throughout Europe alongside a country or regions native language. If almost all europeans could communicate in English as well as in their native language, europeans could communicate easily with one another regardless of where they reside. Rather than countries fighting internally and externally over official languages, if everyone learned English many of the problems would be solved. Take Spain for example. There is a huge battle being waged now between the blue of Spanish speaking Spain and the darker blue color on the East coast of Catalan speaking Spain. These two areas struggle to communicate and are battling over language, but if both regions could speak English, it would detoxify their current struggle.

In America most people cannot speak a foreign language because it is not strongly emphasized in school. If we are a society were forced to learn more about languages from a young age, we may place more value and respect on English. Not to mention the fact that having knowledge of more than one language helps to piece together grammar rules themselves. 

If America and Europe can learn a bit from one another the world could become a much less confusing place!