In this guest post, Christiane Keilig from the British Council in Berlin shares her views on why just English isn’t enough.
Last Friday the German president, Joachim Gauck, proposed to make English the language of the EU. I was surprised to hear it – why did he say that? Just to appease the British and make sure they stay aboard the EU? Or to allay fears that Germany is becoming too powerful? It’s probably a bit of both. But, thinking about it, it does seem to make sense, because:
- English is comparatively easy to learn (I had to learn Latin and Greek as first foreign languages and I rejoiced in English)
- It is already an established business language and dominates in certain areas, for instance IT and banking
- It is the language spoken by big economies
There are also other huge economies out there and I would argue that if you want to sell a product or a service to a foreign market, you need to speak their language and not just English.
Because a market, or rather, countries, are also about culture and I believe that you cannot truly understand a culture without speaking the language – language itself reveals a lot about a country’s mindset.
Also, business is not all. Especially in Europe and in times of crisis, it is important that we understand each other – we cannot afford to threaten a construct which, although fraught with bureaucracy, is also there to maintain peace. Personally, I sometimes think that aspect is sadly underrated.
Moreover, in times of globalisation and mobility, with families living and working far away from their home country, it’s also important their children can learn their mother tongue – it is a vital part of their identity and culture. So it’s not just about learning the language of the country they’re now living in and then ‘just’ English.
Just to pick up on one of the areas of the project’s research: Education. The Language Rich Europe research clearly shows a tendency for English as the most widely chosen language to be learned at school – which could be seen to be endangering the diversity of languages. It is important that especially at school other languages are taught with the same importance attached to them .
For instance, the school my son goes to offers English, French and Latin and you can choose the order in which you learn the languages. I convinced him to learn Latin first, as that gives him a good basis for grammar and all romanic languages. It would be a shame if opportunities like that would disappear.
At the conference on 5 March, Language Rich Europe’s experts will present recommendations for more language diversity in the areas of Education, Audiovisual Media and Press, Public services and Spaces, and Business. They will present the outcomes of the project’s research and will surely provide food for thought and discussions.
Why not join the debate? Do you think English should be the language of Europe? Comment here or tweet @LanguageRich to let us know what you think!