Are we on the road to a one-language world?

Contributing WriterJune 14, 2014 

Let me tell you, my fellow English speakers, about the happy little secret involving foreign languages today.

If you’re an English speaker, English is all you need in much of the world. Whatever the native language in countries you visit, many people speak English in addition to their own tongue.

In one way, I’m not real happy about that. By the time I had spent hundreds of hours trying to learn Spanish and Italian, I realized that millions of people in Mexico and in Italy speak English. I could have spent all those hours teaching our cats how to walk on their hind legs and play a miniature accordion. I could have been rich.

Of course, it wouldn’t kill people like you and me to memorize a few polite please-and-thank-you words just to be friendly in a foreign country. But in truth, you are living in a time when most of the world’s people meet you far more than halfway. This is the age of English domination.

I am astonished almost daily while watching television news events all over the globe and listening to people in the foreign streets speaking passable English. That’s not only happening in European nations but also in many remote places on Earth where much of the population now speaks English better than I can speak Italian or Spanish.

Why is that?

For one thing, many nations recognize the dominance of English in the world. And they are realistic. They want their people and especially their children to learn English for political, diplomatic and economic reasons. Public schools all over the globe — Italy, Russia, Spain, China and dozens of others — can better understand the English-speaking world than the English-speaking world can understand them.

And it is easier for many foreign countries to pick up English because their children are swimming in English as a second language every day. There is a lot of English in the American movies they watch and in American music and in video games.

Two hundred years ago and less, the French language was in the driver’s seat. It was an international language that was useful to one and all for commerce and diplomacy. But the world was never half as saturated with French as it is today with English. French was used mostly by highly educated and wealthy people. Conventional people in places like the United States during those years spoke nothing but their own home language of English.

Meanwhile, I worry about what the Bible reveals of a world saturated with one language for all. As we all swim together in English, it reminds me of the popular Sunday school story about God’s displeasure over the Tower of Babel. The people in that yarn all learned one language. That allowed them to begin building a tower to let them climb up into heaven.

But God thought they were getting too big for their britches. So he “confounded” their language, giving them multiple languages they didn’t all know, thereby costing them the ability to understand each other and cooperate on the tower.

Not even God seemed to realize that his gravity would topple the tower long before it came anywhere near the underside of heaven. Apparently God didn’t have many engineers up there advising him.

So where is today’s English domination heading?

Maybe one language for all is not such an awful idea (unless you’re French). As the one universal language takes shape and lets us communicate clearly, we have a better shot, not at building a silly tower, but at building a better world.

Contact columnist Bill Hall at wilberth@cableone.net or 1012 Prospect Ave., Lewiston, ID 83501.

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