I remember once on holiday I met a German girl called Kim who, aged 9, had been learning English for two years and was practically fluent.
It scared the hell out of me; I honestly believed I was dealing with some freakishly gifted German prodigy who spent her evenings reading encyclopaedias or something. But no, she was an ordinary kid but at her school they had an English lesson every day.
Listening to Kim speak English in her best accent, I remembered my last French lesson. We only have it twice a week, which is nothing when you think about it, and I remembered how loads of the boys refused point blank to speak French.
Our teacher was obviously annoyed. When she asked them why they weren’t answering even though they knew what to say (it was something simple like ‘oui’) they just said, “Allow it, miss. Why do I wanna speak French for? I’ll just make them speak English if I go to France.”
‘Allow it’? Okay, maybe languages aren’t everybody’s thing.
I can see exactly why, at times, people would find them boring, confusing and difficult. But just expecting people to speak your language wherever you go in the world shows a high level of arrogance in yourself and the superiority of your country. And refusing to even try?
Well that’s just being boring! At school, in Britain, we learn a language from Year 7 until Year 9, and then we can give it up and never think about it again. In Germany they learn English from the age of nine, and will probably start learning French or Spanish too.
Research, commissioned by the British Council, found that in the UK schoolchildren are now least likely to speak a foreign language than children in any other European nation.
Is it simply because we are just not good at languages? Do we feel that speaking more than one language isn’t physically possible, and our heads will explode if we try?
Or is it because we’ve grown up with the English-speaking superpowers that are Britain and America and, in these ‘great nations’, there are more important things to do, like work out how best to reduce a country to a war-torn hellhole, or how to do that bit more to destroy the planet.
Lots of us seem to think that because English is one of the most widely spoken languages in the world, we don’t really need to bother speaking anything else.
But when you think about, it’s probably that we just don’t want to communicate with the rest of the world, because we’re scared of the response we’ll get…