This is a post that has been knocking around in my head for quite some time, but one of those I just never got around to writing. In light of recent political thangs, I was reminded of it...but suddenly a bit reluctant. I don't want this to come across as a post about a particular candidate, because it isn't. It is, however, about a phenomenon I've witnessed for years and it really makes me twist off. So here you go!
Let me start off by telling you a little bit about myself: I studied French for over eight years...all through high school and college. That's for a solid eight years, not intermittently during that time period. After I graduated from college, my roommate and I instituted "French Sundays" and we only spoke French on those days so that I wouldn't get too rusty.
That same roommate also taught me some of her native Portuguese. And a bit of Spanish.
In my twenties I also enrolled in German classes at a local community college.
When my son was of preschool age, he showed a strong interest in learning Spanish...so I enrolled him in a program for little kiddies and their mommies. It was great for both of us. All three of my children either have or will learn non-native languages...I firmly believe it is not only a wonderful academic exercise but also a key to understanding other cultures.
Plus I just LOVE how it feels to articulate myself in a new language. It is uniquely thrilling.
So with that caveat, I must say I take great offense of this notion that we Americans are backwards and unenlightened because so many of us don't speak a second or third language.
I've been extraordinarily fortunate to have spent a lot of time in Europe. As I looked forward to my first time in France, I was thrilled to be able to buck that stereotype I'd been taught all of us ugly Americans deserved. I was going to take my pretty damn good French vocabulary and accent and WOW them in those French-speaking countries. Plus I would use my rudimentary Spanish when I could! And maybe I'd just speak French all over Europe and be super awesome!!!
Guess how many times that happened? Let's see...once in Provence a B&B owner kindly indulged me. That's all I can remember. Oh, no wait...their was the bartender in Paris who totally mocked my accent. That's a funny story for another time. Remind me, 'kay?
Sure, there were other times that I got to flex my linguistic muscles, but what usually happened was as soon as the first French (or Spanish) syllables were out of my mouth, whomever I was talking to would wave their hand and say (usually with a polite smile or wink, sometimes with an impatient roll of their eyes), "That's okay, let's speak English." It was disappointing, but whatever. I got over it.
When two Europeans from countries with different languages get together, guess what they usually speak? English. Because, the thing is...English just happens to be, for whatever reason, the default language. On the internet and in real life.
If you live on the border of Italy and Austria, there's a geographic imperative that makes learning more than your family's native language tongue a highly valuable skill. We simply don't have that in the United States.
I would LOVE for there to be languages taught in our grade schools from Kindergarten on. For what it's worth, I'd also love for there to be art, music, and PE, to name a few. I'm supplementing my kid's education with foreign languages. And art and music and PE.
My point is that I'm sick of being told we should be ashamed of our ugly, unenlightened, and inferior nation because we travel abroad and speak English. I know there are those who fit that stereotype, but for the most part I think it is an unfair characterization.