There has been quite a stir these past few days about speaking foreign languages. Well, there was one article in my paper following a report that one of England's more obscure universities had undertaken research into people who speak more than one language compared to people who speak just the one.
Don't worry - I'm not going to start a discussion about the results of the survey even if I could
(a) remember them, and
(b) understand them.
I'm sure many people, me included, could dream up better ways for universities to spend money, but there we are.
Anyway, some years ago, I and three other members of Brighton Lions Club - the International Relations sub-Committee - were lunching in Ypres.
Interjection No 1: The International Relations sub-Committee consisted of four regular members (with the occasional substitute) who would spend a day visiting Calais, Boulogne or Dieppe with a view to (a) enjoying a good lunch, and (b) stocking up on wine, beer and spirits.
Interjection No 2: That's Ypres in Belgium, in case you mistook the town for another Ypres. Unlike those folks across the pond we do not automatically add the name of the country to the name of the town or city as in Paris, France. Or London, England. As far as we are concerned there is onloy one Paris. And only one London for that matter.
So there we were, in the sun outside a restaurant in the main square. We noticed that the young waitress spoke to us in almost faultless English and that she spoke to others in German. We asked how many languages she spoke: it was five - Flemish and French (the two languages of Belgium), English, German and one other, probably Spanish or Italian.
In Venice, the OB and I met a Romanian who also spoke five languages. He told us that he had learned English by watching television!
Last summer, a group of us from Brighton Lions Club visited a Lions Club in Bavaria. (For the geographically challenged, that is a state in Germany.) Almost without exception, the members of our host club spoke English, some so well one would think it was their mother tongue!
I speak a little French - enough to get by in a restaurant or in a simple (very simple) conversation with a neighbour, but it frequently surprises me how few English people speak even a smattering of words in a foreign language. Surely it is a matter of simple courtesy to be able to say 'please' and 'thank you', 'hello' and 'goodbye' in the language of a country one visits?
I sometimes wonder if there is something in the genes of English people (English rather than Scots, Welsh or Irish) to prevent us mastering foreign languages/ There is also the matter of simple laziness. Many foreigners and English have pointed out that the international language of business, shipping and air travel is English. Why bother to struggle with French, German, Spanish or Hindi if they all speak English anyway? And if they don't, just say it again, louder.
At the table next to us one time in France, an area mostly devoid of British immigrants and even more devoid of British tourists, were four men. They seemed to be speaking English, although each of them had a foreign accent. It eventually came to us, the OB and I. Two of the men were French, the other two German. Their only common language? English, of course.
Which just goes to prove the point; there is no need to learn a foreign language.