Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Multilingual or lingua-phobic?

Learning a second language -- or even three or four -- can give you a clear advantage in a globally connected world. If you can converse with people in their native tongue, it's much easier to get around and to get along.

I've traveled to places overseas where key phrases and sign language were all I could muster, but as long as I made the effort, all was good. And in most tourist destinations, English was usually spoken or, at least, somewhat understood.

I wish we had the same appreciation for languages here in the U.S. In my own hometown of Philadelphia, there was the now infamous controversy over a sign at Gino's Steaks that read, "This is America: When ordering please 'SPEAK ENGLISH.'"

That was several years ago, but the incident came to mind after reading a business flyer that was stuck in my mailbox yesterday. One of the claims from this cleaning service is, "We speak ENGLISH."

To which I say: Pourquoi? I didn't know housecleaning required discourse.

I may be firmly rooted in the English language, but I aspire to appreciate, if not completely understand, other languages and cultures. I've even taken a first step to reacquaint myself with the little bit of French I learned in high school by buying the beginner Rosetta Stone course. The initial immersion lesson seemed effective; I've just got to make it a priority to complete Level 1.

Good thing there's plenty of time before my next trip to Paris.


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