IN DEFENSE OF THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE
I am one of these people that love all languages, and I find Italian, Spanish and Portuguese especially beautiful. I won’t even attempt Arabic, Hebrew or Aramaic, simply because they use different letter characters and they write from right to left, opposite of English. Never have I ever said, this is America, speak English. This is a melting pot and we owe the rest of the world what the rest of the world has given us. German Einstein helped us win WWII and liberated Europe. Lucky Luciano, helped with that effort with his Sicilian homeland. Mexican and Spanish pop music has infiltrated and entertained us for decades if not a century. Think of Desi Arnaz, Tito Puente, Celia Cruz, and of course today we have the Korean Psy’s Gagnam Style playing in every club, ever radio station and definitely on every internet medium.
While I agree that everyone should be able to speak all the languages the United Nations recognizes such as Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian & Spanish they are all very different languages. So I have always thought every country should teach at least two worldly languages. For me, I would think it would be the 2 leaders, English and Spanish. Why do I place English first? It all relates to pop culture. And everyone in every country loves Hollywood, Elvis, Sinatra, The Beatles and countless other English-originated forms of entertainment. Even in the silent film era there was Chaplin. All of the television programming coming out of the United States, even reality and competition TV has been translated and converted into those countries and languages.
There are words in Brazilian Portuguese that have no translation, and there are English translations completely lost to the rest of the world. There are even English terms that are lost in Australia, New Zealand, England and even the United States. But this is the way of any language. Terms like “I miss you” in English translates to “saudades” which means missing of a longing love. However, “saudades” translates to “homesickness” which is not accurate, its not homesick its not missing, its much more complex in the heart.
I am lucky to have been born in the United States and for that reason I enjoy (or not) love every aspect of the language, be it urban, country, pop or slang, I get it, and that is a good thing because I know people in every other country love this form of music and language. They love rap, but you can’t really understand rap unless you first speak English, then slang, then urban slang and still understand the poetry (yes, I just called some forms of rap poetry), no not the Thoreau type of poetry, but the desperate, oppressed victims of the inner city who turn their pain into music, which in the end, is a form of poetry.
Again, its an easy call for me. English is the #1 language, not because its native to me, but because its the #1 source of the most popular music, television, film and pop culture, even food, that the world recognizes. I vote for Spanish as #2. After that, its hard. Sure, Mandarin Chinese is the largest language, but its all within one region. English and Spanish are predominant all over the globe, especially North, Central, and South America, as well as the UK, Australia, South Africa, India and New Zealand. I wonder how much easier life would be if we all spoke the same language. But, we don’t and that is part of the problem of communication and misunderstood communication.
From what I am told, students in India must know fluently know 5 different languages: English, Hindi, Regional dialect and some others. In Europe, they all speak 5 languages at the drop of a dime, they all speak Spanish, French, Italian, English, and some of the Slavic languages. So why, here, in the USA can’t we speak both Spanish and English fluently? We know English as our first language. So, why don’t we know Spanish fluently? After all, Columbus was Italian but sailed under the Spanish flag, and both languages are very similar, so we should embrace the Spanish language as much as our native English language.
What bothers me is when I have to press “1” for English and then when I say “Billing” the automated computer asks me to repeat. Really? Its perfect English I am speaking (lives in the same town all my life), so do I need to speak English with a Spanish accent, or do I need to speak more slowly? I don’t agree that English is the best structured language, in my opinion, the easiest languages to learn are the Romance languages like Italian, Spanish, Portuguese & French — however, French and Portuguese (especially Brazilian) have too many rules. So, an international language should be Spanish, but by default English rules since the USA and English music and entertainment all derive from this language.
Shakespeare, Thoreau, even Coelho and countless others of writers, poets and philosophers write and speak in English. Not to mention not just some but most of the world’s most popular music and lyrics.
Perhaps I am defensive because when I travel in other countries (like here) they want me to speak their language, and I understand that, just as we arrogantly say “you are in the United States, speak English) but when I am involved in relationship of any kind (business, romantic or friendly), I don’t agree that I should be speaking their language and that effort on their part should be shared to speak English. I don’t like being stereotyped as an American as lazy or stupid because I cannot fluently speak another language which is not even on the UN recognized list. Everyone strives and thrives to learn English, so allow us to help and teach you. Do not frown upon us because languages of other cultures are a very different structure even if they are easy. It hard work thinking, and maybe we are lazy, but you have more to benefit from learning English than we do learning your language. Its not to say we shouldn’t, but in the end, we did invent Rock & Roll, Hollywood, and have The Beatles, Rolling Stones and Elvis to our credit, plus you can travel to UK and nearly all of Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and United States, as well as South Africa, India, Germany, and I can go on, but let’s remember, English, is a language to learn.