Friction can be a drag

In the interests of free speech…just make it interesting

Monoglot Europe: post-post English imperialism?

with 12 comments

The European Union is adding 3 new languages to its official languages list next month, bringing the total of official European languages to 23.

What a charming celebration of diversity and a heart-warming tip of the hat to cultural difference. Diversity in language is a beautiful and emotional connection to history and nation. Languages are a stamp of heritage, intellectual and political development, a window into the values and aesthetics of a culture.

Languages cost the EU €1.1 billion last year in translation and interpretation costs. Is there not an opportunity-cost argument for balancing heart-warmth with pragmatism?

Everyone is learning English – in Europe and beyond, a quarter of the world in fact. How long can Brussels cling to its Francocentric inspired linguistic diversity policy before it all goes belly-up? What really is the point of translating everything into Irish? Would the Romanians not rather have more jobs, than EU documents in Romanian?

Am I being a complete Anglophone Anglophile? – well, I would probably be just as happy if we adopted French or German as our ‘working’ European language – at least that would make us self-obsessed English learn more languages, which would be a great thing for global cohesion and development overall! I think it is arrogant, stupid and sacrilegious that foreign languages are no longer compulsory in schools after the age of 14. However, for the sake of pragmatism and money well spent, English makes more sense as like it or not, it is also the first language of the USA as well as being the first choice for a second language world-wide: 20% of 5 year olds in Japan are enrolled on English language courses!

Correspondingly, why are we in the UK spending so much of our well-earned taxes on translation services for our new nationals that can’t be bothered to learn English? Even worse, why are we spending so much of our well-earned taxes on translation services for our OLD nationals that can’t be bothered to learn English? – the Bangladeshis have been here for over 30 years, we are well into the third generation! Why are we still pandering to their self-absorption? A friend of mine asked me only two weeks ago to help him find a translator to put the slogan “join our basketball club” into Bengali. But he was targeting teenage girls; how does such an exercise promote integration or engagement? It serves only to divide us further.

Two thirds of all EU documents are now drafted in English. This is a sad legacy of imperialism, but let’s look forward I say and focus on integration, development and cohesion. Let’s divert translation funds into providing language classes for all, English for all, and other languages for English speakers. There are many ways to celebrate diversity, spending money on vain translations is not one of them.


Written by sanchezdemarcos

December 17, 2006 at 11:38 pm

12 Responses

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  1. Couldn’t agree more.
    Still riled from the Turkish woman on Newsnight who lives in England but claims it is her RIGHT to NOT learn English.
    I do still regret that Esperanto was mocked as it was – that could have been the answer.
    It didnt work so English is the next best option…then Spanish.


    December 18, 2006 at 9:46 am

  2. Translation is a great Service Economy linch pin. It is welcoming to be relaxed as to how we speak.

    Some of you bigots harken back to the olde England and revel in the many accents of this country. Before the standardised media, the old accents were actually different dialects. The diversity is great, translation services a more valuable way to spend money than guns, and people can bloody well do whatever they want.

    I could demand to never speak to you in English ever again if I wanted.

    It’s in our interest to make ourselves heard. If they need to hear us, they’ll find a way.


    December 18, 2006 at 11:16 am

  3. Don’t understand what you are actually saying?
    Getting a generally unified language in this country (thanks to Henry VIII and the Tyndall’s Bible) was a large contributing factor in the growth of this country.
    I’d hazard a guess that the opposite could result in the opposite.
    No-one wants to stop people speaking other languages – just that if you want to live in a country you should learn the predominant language.
    It is not bigotry.


    December 18, 2006 at 11:32 am

  4. Foreign people coming to this country need to learn English and within reason, we should not bend over backwards to supply key documents in all these languages.

    My parents came to England only knowing a handful of words and picked it up through interacting with the people. They still remained within a tight Spanish community but to get ahead, they had to learn English.

    As far as I am concerned, translation should only be for Tourists because they essentially pay for it. Councils are the worst translating forms, public information pamphlets into different languages. Surely these people have someone in their family who speak English? Why shoudl they have it any different from my family who used me to help them undretsand forms, fill in the census etc.

    On the language issue of Europe, of course we should be protecting the diversity? Surely you are not suggesting we pick one language? What’s the point in that? Save how much in translatiuon costs at the EU? How about forgetting that idea and just scrapping the EU farming subsidies instead?


    December 18, 2006 at 12:20 pm

  5. I think that Chairman has hit the nail on the head, translation services should only be provided for foreigners visiting this country as opposed to foreigners wishing to live in this country. If I were to go and live in Spain (though why anyone would want to do that I don’t know) I wouldn’t expect everyone to speak English (though it would help initially) I would expect to have to learn the language of that country.

    If you make a choice to live in a certain country you have to be able to speak the language of that country, you can’t expect to go into a shop, get on a bus, go to a job interview etc and have the person that you’re speaking to address you in your native tongue, everyone would have to learn every language on the planet which is simply unfeasable. Logistically it’s easier for 1 person to learn 1 new language rather than 55 million people learn 100…


    December 18, 2006 at 2:16 pm

  6. By the same standard though, we should be helping ourselves and learn other languages too. Most people in other countries start to learn a second foreign language at primary school these days and continue it right through their education, wether it is English or not it is another string to their bow. You can now give up a foreign language at age 14 and not have to continue it! This may be a contirbuting factor to why many foreign nationals think the English are ignorant on the Language fron and get annoyed with us when we go over there be it to live or on holiday.

    Maybe if the whole world put in a bit more effort and at least tried to learn another language we wouldn’t have so much of a problem!

    Also, Language schools are a fundamental part of the culture here in england too, with hundreds of people coming here to learn English every year – something must be working for that to happen?!?

    Maybe we chould make it an Immigration requirement to speak, read and write a certain Level of English before you can live here or get a job? This already happens with University entrants from abroad and nobody moans about that. Maybe it would help….


    December 18, 2006 at 5:05 pm

  7. They are introducing a British test (
    I agree we should do better at learning a second language.
    As well as wanting immigrants to learn English I do think we are recognising the benefits of having people with another language coming to the UK – the economy can only benefit…but they’ve still gotta learn English!


    December 19, 2006 at 12:47 pm

  8. fyi
    Since July 2004, it has been a requirement for immigrants wishing to become British citizens, to demonstrate a basic proficiency in English and to pass an examination on “Life in the United Kingdom”


    December 19, 2006 at 12:50 pm

  9. Fine, so lets stop all this translating already and put the money being spent to better use.


    December 25, 2006 at 7:01 pm

  10. Why do people bang on so much about celebrating diversity?
    What about the occasional celebration of the traits that we share, those that bind rather than separate?


    January 25, 2007 at 3:13 am

  11. igotlife – if that English proficiency test is anything like the one people take for American citizenship then I wouldn’t set too much store in it.
    Apparently you don’t even have to be able to write your own name.


    January 25, 2007 at 3:16 am

  12. This is the most appalling article and comments I have read on this blog. Your ethnocentrism and short-sightedness is quite saddening, actually. It’s comforting to think that all Empires perish and so will the one that gave English its temporary supremacy. In the meantime, mono-linguals will continue to live in their cultural and mental desert.


    February 23, 2007 at 11:28 pm

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