I'm listening to a programme which has just had an interview with a Frenchman who says he speaks Globish - a form of Pidgin English which is spoken by non-native speakers of English to each other. He says that he needs only 1,500 words to be able to speak to any other person who has a basic command of English.
"One of the things of interest in Globish is that with 1,500 words you can express everything. People all over the world will speak with the same limited vocabulary."
I like the bit at the end of that article: '... he's not only protecting French from invasion but he is getting Americans to become, so to speak, bilingual. 'Absolutely!' Nerriere says, triumphantly. "This is the way to get Americans to learn another language".'
Apart from the small matter of it's being mostly in French, it might be worth going to his website just to find the words of Strangers in the Night in "Globish"!!!
For the BBC programme I'm listening to, see Word of Mouth and for the International Herald Tribune article on the same subject, see here.
You might also like the BBC programme Word for Word.
Note: If you want to listen to a BBC radio programme, you have to have RealPlayer installed.This message has been edited. Last edited by: Dianthus,
Yes, in general, Americans are not fluent in other languages. I don't have any facts on it, but I do think that is changing. Junior high schools and high schools are beginning to require languages more than they used to, as are colleges. When I was at an international conference in Italy, I saw how much easier it was for Europeans, as compared to the Americans, to communicate with the Italians ...even when neither group spoke Italian. Europeans are so close to other countries that it is second nature to them to communicate with people whose language they don't speak. Americans, on the other hand, aren't that close to countries with other languages, and therefore they don't have the experience.
We English are also notoriously bad at languages. We even tried to eradicate the languages of others on our own island! There was a systematic campaign against Welsh and Gaelic from the 19th century till almost the 1930s. School lessons were held solely in English and children caught speaking their own language were humiliated and punished.
We're only 21 miles from France at our closest point, but we might as well be 21 hundred. It's ironic, because English is a mongrel language which incorporated elements of many others (including invaders from Rome, various Scandinavian countries and France) long before we were a united country and went off invading others on our account.
Although our national lack of linguistic ability is changing, mostly because of language teaching at school during the past 40 years or so (usually French with German or Spanish, depending on whether the school can find anyone to teach the latter two), we still lag far behind other European countries in either ability or willingness to speak other languages. I was working as a translator from 1996-1997 and was seconded to a client firm in Antwerp, in Belgium, for a month in 1996. I found that it was very difficult for me to practise my Flemish because everyone wanted to practise their English on me! They were astonished that I not only could speak their language (after a fashion), but actually wanted to!
In fact, I believe that this is the root of the problem.
If English is not your native tongue when you decide to learn another language there is almost no choice. It will be English. It is the world's most important language by far and is steadily becoming more important thanks to modern technology and esepecially the internet. That it is a relatively simple language to learn to speak adequately (although fiendishly difficult to speak well) is a bonus.
But what do the English learn for their second language? French - as it's our nearest neighbour? Spanish as it's one of the most widely-spoken languages after English? German because of its commercial importance? Chinese because of its popularity? Arabic, of course, a very important language these days - why not that?
Many, many candidates, many with no clear-cut advantage over any other. But, as I said, for Europeans there is really no choice - it has to be English first and then you learn something else if you want to.