Skip to main content

Language Politics

Some people are skilled with languages. Unfortunately, I am not one of them.

When I was in high school, I took 4 years of Latin courses and remember almost none of them. During college I took Beginner's Italian, which taught me a bit, but hardly enough to get by if I ever travel by myself to Italy.

Before I left for Montreal last week, I was a little anxious about the language situation. I don't know any French, aside from the dozen or so common words that I memorized in the days before the trip. It turned out not to matter, since Montreal is a truly bilingual city.

Not only is French the official language in Quebec, it also seemed to be the preferred language. Menus, for example, are typically in French. At coffee shops, I was able to figure out most of the menu, through a combination of my general knowledge of coffee menus and a few words that look familiar to what I'd learned in Italian.

(from chrisinphilly5448 on Flickr)

Of course, I didn't go to a single restaurant, bar, coffee shop or store where the person serving or helping me didn't speak perfect English, which actually made me feel kind of guilty, because I was incapable of having a conversation in French, even though everyone else was capable of having a conversation in English.

It really made me consider how we approach language in the U.S. Even as the country becomes increasingly diversified with foreign speakers, how many right-wing pundits and even politicians think there ought to be one official language? How many truly believe that it's the responsibility of anyone who comes to America to learn English? And if they don't, they shouldn't be accommodated?

In some ways, it makes me feel intellectually depressed. For all the years that I've spent in school and despite the fact that I have a college degree, I can only communicate in a single language. Americans' desire to learn new languages usually stems from wanting to live or travel overseas. If the Canadians in Quebec can make English-speakers feel so welcome when they visit, why can't we reciprocate for our visitors?


Mel said…
While in Brussels, a waiter we encountered during our trip spoke some 20 languages. I was extremely jealous.

Like you, I has 4.5 years of German, but remember little (having nobody to concede regularly with). But I was surprised how much of it I remembered upon visiting Germany. A podcast certainly helped to brush up, but I'm by no means conversationally adept. I'd like to get there. Then, learn Hungarian. :)
Michael said…
Network effects. There is no clear single language Americans can learn which will handle visitors. On the contrary, people in Europe and abroad know that English is approaching universal language status due to its usefulness in various fields, such as internet/technology/science, aviation, navigation.
Ashley said…
Oh, I totally get this.

Especially after going to international school. EVERYONE spoke English and knew where my country was on a map. I felt so selfish.

Popular posts from this blog

In Praise of Southwest's 'C' Boarding Group

A few weeks ago I saw a tweet from someone complaining that their Southwest Airlines boarding pass had been assigned A20 (meaning they would be at least one of the first twenty passengers to board the plane). Apparently this person though they should have been assigned a higher number, less their flight experience be considerably spoiled.

Despite the complaints, Southwest has resisted demands to assign seats on its flights, a decision which I personally applaud. I'll admit that I was skeptical when they rolled out the newest boarding procedure, assigning both boarding groups and a line number; but in hindsight it seems like one of the best operational decisions they've ever made. If nothing else, it effectively eliminated the infamous "cattle call" whereby fliers were getting to airports hours in advance and sitting in line on the floor as if they were waiting for the midnight showing of the new Star Wars movie.

When I was an intern at Southwest Airlines last winter, I…

So You Want to be a Southwest Airlines Intern?

My personal website must have pretty decent SEO - because in the past year, I've received about two dozen emails from aspiring Southwest Airlines interns looking to draw on my experience in search of their own dream internship. In the past two weeks alone a few new emails have already started rolling in...

(from flickr user San Diego Shooter)

If you've found your way here, you might be hoping for the silver bullet; a secret tip that will propel you above the competition. Unfortunately, I do not know any inside secrets. I can only share my experience as an internship candidate about two years ago and, rather than responding individually to future emails I anticipate to receive, I hope that potential interns will find the information posted here valuable.

Understand: Southwest Airlines is a very unique company. The corporate culture at Southwest is truly unlike that of nearly every other company. But you probably already knew that, since it now seems mandatory for every management,…

Commuting Meets Technology

I'm finally out of the dark ages. I got an Android smartphone over the weekend and have since been in the process of exploring the Android apps market.  One thing I've immediately noticed is the really wide range of usefulness in the apps. For example, the WeatherBug app is fantastic. It automatically determines your location and gives you exact conditions for that location. On the other end of the spectrum, Google's Goggles app is supposed to be a type of 'visual search' where you snap of photo of something and Google searches for it. In each of my attempts to use it, the app hasn't returned any search results. I even took a photo of a bottle of Pepsi (figuring it as a common houseful item) and got nothing.

Somewhere in the middle is this app called Waze. Have a look at their 'guided tour':

Some people might look at it and comment on the amazing evolution of technology or on the incredible value of social networks. To me, Waze says something important ab…