Rate this
0 (0 votes)
“Perspective of a native English speaker”
0 out of 5 based on 0 user ratings

“Perspective of a native English speaker”

shastri-sookdeoAs the popularity of English as a second language rises, Shastri Sookdeo, 28, a Commonwealth Correspondent from Trinidad now living in Amsterdam, looks at the effect on the incentive for native English speakers to become bilingual.

The number of people that have learnt English as a second language has always amazed me. In the East London district of Poplar where I once lived, it’s quite common to hear Somali or Bengali being spoken and to see signs at the weekend market written in Bengali. But I’ve never had any doubt that people speaking other languages would have any difficulty in communicating in English (otherwise my trips to the market would be an exploration in communication barriers). Of course, it seems obvious that everyone would speak in English in London. To not speak English would make finding a job close to impossible. The fact that everyone speaks English is taken for granted.

In Amsterdam where I now live, people take the fact that English can be used as a given despite it having no official statues. Almost all of the Dutch are fluent in English to a very high level. I once saw my Dutch colleague reading War and Peace in English translation. When I inquired about why he chose to read in English, he replied that he only began reading novels for English classes and continued to read in English. The competence of non-English speakers in my native language can be frighteningly impressive sometimes.

The percentage of English speakers is growing globally, as is the percentage of bilingual persons. Those growth figures aren’t unrelated, as it means many people are learning English as a second language. But what also seems to arise from this, at least from what I’ve learnt talking to other native speakers, is that they find it unnecessary to bother with learning any other languages.

That’s true, in a superficial way. Why would anyone need to learn another language if everyone is learning English? They don’t need to. And that probably is the major difference between native English speakers and those who learn English as a second language: The need and demand for English. Almost every native English speaker knows someone who has tried and failed to learn a second language. Those persons usually far outweigh the native English speakers who have successfully gained functionality (never mind fluency) in another language, because they’re free to give up when the language becomes difficult.

There isn’t a correlation between native English-speakers learning a second language and social mobility, as there usually is for people who learn English. London is full of Spanish and Portuguese citizens who are working here due to the dim prospects of finding employment in those countries currently. The topic of languages always comes up at office social events and one of the most regularly given reasons why English was learnt, is that of opportunity.

For native English speakers, learning a second language is a hobby and like many hobbies, it’s followed half-heartedly. It’s taken me several years to approach competence in any foreign language, a fact which I initially ascribed to an inability to learn foreign languages. But unfortunately the truth is much simpler. It was just too easy to slip back into English which almost everyone spoke. I imagine it’s a situation many English speakers find themselves in.

Learning English is not particularly easy, despite the abundance of English speakers. People achieve competence in English by immersion. English media is everywhere and, of course, without it then opportunity is restricted. People say Chinese is the language of the future, but English is very much the language of the present. But for native English speakers, we can’t guarantee we’ll always get to be lazy about choosing to learn other languages. It’s entirely possible that  not knowing another will severely restrict us even more than it does now. Besides, wouldn’t it be great to be able to know what people are saying when they think you don’t?

photo credit: pilllpat (agence eureka) alphabete p17 via photopin (license)

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………
About me: I currently work as an operations analyst with a focus on  supply chain. My interests are sports, foreign languages, travel and cooking. My studies in finance have also given me a fascination for currency markets and international trade.
My ambition is to be able to travel extensively and attempt to document and describe the intricacies of the many diverse sporting and culinary cultures across the world.
…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the Commonwealth Youth Programme. Articles are published in a spirit of dialogue, respect and understanding. If you disagree, why not submit a response?
To learn more about becoming a Commonwealth Correspondent please visit: http://www.yourcommonwealth.org/submit-articles/
…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Comments

comments

Powered by Facebook Comments