Today is European day of languages. The goals of this initiative are:
- Alerting the public to the importance of language learning and diversifying the range of languages learnt in order to increase plurilingualism and intercultural understanding;
- Promoting the rich linguistic and cultural diversity of Europe, which must be preserved and fostered;
- Encouraging lifelong language learning in and out of school, whether for study purposes, for professional needs, for purposes of mobility or for pleasure and exchanges.
As an Irishman and a proud Anglophone studying a master’s program in English and French in Poland, I felt it would be no harm to comment.
English is a lingua franca like no other before it having much more impact and resonance, thanks mainly in recent years to the spread of new communications technologies. On paper, therefore, one could conclude that to be born an Anglophone is quiet a stroke of luck. Happy days! One need never learn another language.
But to think like this is to do yourself a disservice. There is a general scientific consensus forming that language learning has multiple health benefits and children raised bilingually are better at multi-tasking. In other words, in my not-so-scientific opinion I believe multilingualism opens a part of the brain that otherwise could be left dormant.
Personally, I can testify in favour of this. I am studying through French again, for the first time in over seven years and as I take some baby steps in forming opinions and viewpoints in a different language again, I remember that I think and view the world ever so slightly different “en francais”.
I also feel something between jealousy and awe of those who experience this more regularly than I do. These days, I regularly witness people form far more coherent opinions on topics ranging from Marxist Leninism to supranationalism in their third or fourth language than I ever could do in my first.
Today, we look at our continents diversity through the medium of her tongues. We see challenges and opportunities as we see through any other lens when looking at Europe. For an Anglophone, this is similar to looking at the situation in many other ways, which is to say one can get an unnerving sense of detachment.
Choice of language is important. Those that know me best will be aware of my more than underlying disdain for the use of American English on my side of the Atlantic. You can tell so much from someone’s subtle choice of words. It often betrays their influences and loyalties to a similar extent to something like their body language. Getting to grips with these vagaries in another tongue can often help you appreciate previously unknown aspects of your own language and culture.
I am disturbed by the growing gap both cultural and linguistic, between the British Isles and the mainland. At best, I believe it will lead to a lack of influence for Britain and Ireland at a European level and at worst I predict it may lead to rising unfounded euro scepticism.