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auntofthebride Posts: 9,354 Registered: 4/2/06
Re: Muffin's 20/20 message thread
Posted: Sep 21, 2008 10:35 AM
Dear Linz,

"For whatever reason, our country just doesn't think it's necessary to know another language."

I'll offer a few observations on this. I have thought long and hard about this.

First, if one is an Average American, what foreign language would you recommend they learn? Spanish? French? Italian? Chinese? One can make a good case for many different second languages.

For the Average Non-English Speaker, English is the obvious choice for a second language.

Next, how far would most Americans have to travel to be in a place where a foreign language is spoken by the natives? There's French Canada, easily accessed by car from the Northeast US. Mexico is not all that easily accessed by car, even from the border states, as there is insurance and carnet paperwork associated with taking a car across the border. Anywhere else would require overseas travel, either by boat or by air.

Compare that to living and growing up in Europe. Borders are, mostly, completely open in Europe. There is no problem with driving between most European nations. Just last week, I went by car from Belgium to the Netherlands, back (briefly) through Belgium, then into Germany. At no point did the car even slow down at a border. We saw "Welcome to Germany" from the car window, at 120 kmh. Within the Euro Zone, there is no need to even change money. I spent the same Euros in the Netherlands, in Belgium and in Germany.

But, I was in three different native language zones. In the Netherlands and in northern Belgium, Dutch (aka Flemish) is spoken. German, of course in Germany and in southern Belgium French is spoken. A Flemish-speaking Belgian who wishes to be immersed in French need only get on local public transport and go south about 100km. More ambitions? The language student could go another 100km and be in France.

A good friend of mine in Germany is fluent in English and conversant in Italian, French and Dutch. Why? Because he has spent considerable time in those countries. As an EU citizen, he doesn't need any kind of work visa to get a job anywhere in the EU. 

By contrast, as an American, I would have a difficult time getting a job in any nation but my own, just as foreign nationals have a tough time getting a job here.

At any rate, that's my opinion. It's sad to me that so few Americans speak a second language, but I can understand why. I have had this type of discussion many times in many foreign countries with those who dis monolingual Americans.

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