Multilingualism Essay, Research Paper
17 May 2000
Imagine finding yourself in a strange place where no one speaks your language or understands you and you cannot find anyone to help you. This is a very possible scenario in a world of so many tongues and cultures. Because international travel and communication via the internet are becoming more and more common, the chances of needing language proficiency are growing. Resistance and closed mindedness of some groups have prevented the spread of multilingualism, which is much needed in an ever shrinking global society.
There are many ways to acquire proficiency in languages other than your own. Most schools in the U.S. and around the world teach foreign languages, and in most places, these courses are required. Much literature has been produced to teach languages. There are also computer programs available. Immersion and foreign studies programs are very effective ways of language learning. It is best to know one’s native language well before attempting the mastery of another in some cases. Navaho children originally schooled in Navaho had higher reading competency scores English than Navoho children initially schooled in English (Fishman 4).
It is very advantageous for anyone to become multilingual, as there are many opportunities available in the area. In some cases, learning English means better jobs and a better understanding of the world around you. It means having a voice in the world. Thousands of immigrants to the U.S. as well as people worldwide strive to learn English daily. Most students in today’s colleges worldwide are studying to become multilingual (Ferrell and Hotz 6).
English is a very dominant language in the world today. This is due, in part, to the internet. Many of the first computers were American made and designed, making English the first computer recognized character system. The American Code for Info Exchange is the only code which can be used in every computer in the world without distortion. Eighty percent of internet content is in English, but 44% of online users speak another language at home. English will probably remain the most commonly used language on the net for the foreseeable future, for it is the world’s most commonly understood one (Fishman 4).
English is the first language in 427 countries. English is the second language in 350 countries. English is the most taught foreign language in 100 countries. English has an official status in 70 countries. “English is taking over the world”, said University of Alaska language expert Michael Kraus (Ferrell and Hotz 2).
Forty percent of the world’s gross domestic product comes from predominantly English speaking countries. English competency is becoming a prerequisite for promotions and appointments in more and more countries. In the European Commission, although French is used more often than English, English is preferred among younger officials. Many believe that English will soon replace French as the language of the diplomats. English is the primary language for many of the European Unions businesses, EU newsletters, European Central Bank, and most other economic communications (Fishman 8)
The United States seems to be a very dominate power in the world, yet it has done little to make it’s citizens multilingual. Although the country was founded on principals which protected the rights of it’s citizens, and the founding fathers for this reason chose not to declare an official language, very few Americans believe that people have the right to speak whichever
language they choose. Many small areas will seek to foster their own tongue, but limit big languages (Fishman 7). In the same way, big areas are reluctant to make accommodations to those who may speak unfamiliar languages.
Language barriers existing in the U.S. and worldwide are becoming a very serious matter. Schools, law enforcement, the courts, hospitals, and other public institutions cost more and run more slowly due to language barriers. Many tragedies occur because of barriers like these. For instance, an old man was taken in by the policemen on the street, but couldn’t communicate to them where he lived or what he needed. After trying to help the man, the policemen gave up and dropped him off in a remote part of town far from his home. The man was beaten, robbed, and killed by gang members on the streets, all because no one could understand him (Ferrell and Hotz 3).
Barriers have also shown to increase racial tensions and lead to gangs and organized crime. People seek out others who speak their own language, and sometimes become bitter towards those who don’t. Thus, gangs form( Ferrell and Hotz 3).
Specific examples of barriers include schools not being able to take certain students, hospitals providing poor care for patients, or police officers not being able to perform their duties. All these scenarios occur due to a simple lack of communication (Ferrell and Hotz 3).
Some groups resist multilingualism because they fear it. Smaller countries with smaller, weaker languages see the taking over of stronger languages as threatening, imperialistic linguicide, genocide, and mind control (Fishman 7).
Immigrant families fear that their children will forget much of their language and culture. Customs are being forgotten and transformed by American culture (Ferrell and Hotz 2).
The French government forbids English in advertisements and is strict about English language films in France. It is a well known fact that the French fear the English language. The Academie Francaise coins neologisms for Anglo-American slang to guard the French language against “corruption”. However, French students are learning English in school earlier and earlier (Fishman 7).
Moscow instituted Russian as the official language of education and government in the Baltics and Central Asia. Many Russian states have passed extremely strict laws, placing education, science, and culture within the exclusive purview of their national languages and leaving ethnic Russians out in the cold (Fishman 8). This creates barriers within barriers.
In many societies, languages of the area are each assigned their own, specific purpose. It is understood that there is a language for business, a language for intimate situations, such as with family, and perhaps yet another language used for religious purposes. Sometimes, more than one language is used within a single sentence. Seperate languages are used as if for different tones. For example, one might insult you in one language, but praise you in another. Also, there are dialect switches according to the situation (UWA 1-3). Thus, we see that multilingualism is not at all infeasible for the world.
There are many jobs to be acquired in the field of multilingualism. Among these, are teaching, translating, and interpreting. The number of openings for these types of jobs are ever growing. The English as a Second Language program (ESL) in the U.S., especially needs teachers who are fluent in Spanish and other languages of immigrants to the country. These jobs require a great knowledge of the language and culture as well as fluency (Bluford 1-2).
Translators are needed for many jobs concerning the translation of books and documents,
among other. Interpreters are needed for international relations. Hospitals, schools, and large corporations are in great need of interpreters to enable them to communicate with those who may not know the local language. The European Union has many interpreters and translators. One person is rarely capable of being both an interpreter and a translator (Fishman 8).
“Language can break you. Language can box you in, force you down paths you never would have taken. For others, it can be a magic portal to wealth, power, and other plateaus of attainment.”(Ferrell and Hotz 1) For whatever reason, our society and others stubbornly push away the concept of multilingualism. We must overcome this fear and do our duty as world citizens. We must become multilingual. Resistance and closed mindedness of some groups have prevented the spread of multilingualism, which is much needed in an ever shrinking global society.
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Ferrell, David and Robert Lee Hotz. “Language Enclaves Are Havens, Prisons.” Los Angeles Times 23 Jan. 2000
Fishman, J.A. “The New Linguistic Order.” Foreign Policy Winter1998-1999: 26-32
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