The Terrible Rolling Tide Of English

Whenever I hear the inimitable Stephen Fry talk there’s usually a cord struck deep within. This brief talk about the Irish language and Ros na Rún to The Phil, (December 7th, 2010) is no exception.

“One can’t deny the terrible rolling tide of English”

Is English (or Chinese) destined to become the universal “common” or “basic” language imagined in so many sci-fi and fantasy novels? If these languages are destined to be so, should we be teaching our children Chinese in order to make sure they are prepared for doing business in the next 20 years?

As the world becomes more online centric, and international trade becomes a mundane everyday experience for even the smallest of vendors, I find myself wondering if when my son arrives the right thing to do for his future would be to have him learn Chinese as a second language?

After he’s mastered Chinese he can then learn some of the more esoteric and aesthetically pleasing spoken languages if he is so inclined.

While Irish is a beautiful language to me and I’m very proud of my heritage, the most practical application I’ve had for it since leaving school was the ability to understand commands in the military and hold conversations that I didn’t wish to be overheard while abroad.

You know the kind of conversations I’m talking about. There’s the ones you usually have in very hushed tones about someone being a complete prick, or a terrible waiter, but when you do it in a language that not many other people speak (comparatively) you can do it without resorting to looking like you’re trying to discussing cleaning the puss from your genital herpes in a room full of parrot like five-year-olds.

It was the same with German and Danish. I spent 7 years in Denmark, yet almost every time I opened my mouth to talk in Danish people wanted to practice and speak in English to me. It actually came to the point that I would ask please not speak to me in English or I’ll would never become fluent.

Beyond the cultural broadening that tends to occur when one learns a new language there’s  little “future value” to learning German, Spanish, French, etc.,  as a second language when the vast majority of populations of these countries already speak English (in some cases better than native English speakers I know).

Language is an  issue of national identity. It’s tied to it on a fundamental level, and of course there’s a strong need and desire to keep our national heritage (wherever you may be from), but we tend to forget that the young human brain is a wonderful malleable information sponge. If we start teaching our children languages early on, there is no reason at all why they cannot achieve fluency in multiple languages.

While I’m at it, perhaps I should instill an early appreciation of another language as well – one of the more fundamental programming languages, in order to ensure he is well grounded in our increasingly technology based society?