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Are English speakers lazy?

No, I’m not being as rude as the title suggests! It’s just something that I thought of, and I SHOULD have put in my “Pondering on language” post, but I forgot, and it seems like a topic worthy of a small post of its own. So now to the actual question– are English speakers lazy? Firstly, I have to actually explain what I mean by this, and for that I will paint you a little picture.

So you’re hanging around in town (in England, we have to assume) and by chance, you start talking to someone. You have a little bit of a conversation, and all the while you notice something– this person obviously does not have English as their first language. BUT, they’re speaking it very well. And then you think: do you know as much of their language as they do of yours?

That’s the point I’m trying to make and discuss in this post. Do we, as English speakers, put such an emphasis on learning languages as other countries seem to do? Well let’s think of one side of this argument. Why would we need to? English is THE language of the world (at the moment), and it is the official language in many fields, like aviation and business. There isn’t a point in English speakers learning another language, since we’re already speaking the most important one. 

I disagree with that viewpoint. Firstly, we need to consider how lucky we are to have English as our first language, because, as most teachers say, English is VERY hard to learn as a second, third, or anything more, language. I can definitely see that– we have all sorts of rules that have more exceptions than words that follow it; we have things that should be pronounced one way but are pronounced a different way; all sorts of odd things like that. And secondly, we need to think of how, well, lazy and rude that sounds. Not learning another language, because English is the language of the moment? 

But sadly, I think some English speakers do think like this. How many times have you been on holiday, and seen some English-speaking tourists trying to talk to the native people in English, even though they clearly don’t know what on earth the tourists are saying. But the tourists seem to expect that they do know exactly what they’re saying, perhaps because they think that everyone in the world learns English. Personally, I think that if you go to any other country, you should at least make an effort to learn a few basic phrases in that language, and try to use them. You know how thankful you feel when a non-English-speaking person speaks English for you? Well the non-English-speaking people in the country you’re travelling to will be thankful that you’re speaking their language! 

Now I’m going to think about actually learning other languages properly; more specifically, in school. Correct me if I’m wrong, but schools in other countries generally have English classes, don’t they? And schools in England have classes for other languages, don’t we? So what I’m wondering is, in comparison to foreign schools, how much of an emphasis do we place on learning languages? At my school, we do quite a few different languages, and trips to some of the countries that actually use them. At GCSE, we HAVE to do at least one language. I don’t know if that’s true for other English schools. I don’t know if they place such an importance on language as my school does. 

So, now have a think about what language(s) you did in school, and think of how much you learned. Could you live in a country that speaks that language, knowing that much (however much it is) of it? And imagine all the instances of foreign people speaking English that you’ve seen recently. Could you say what they said in their language, or the language that you know the most of (aside from English)? I mean, I probably couldn’t, which gives me a lot of respect for non-English-speaking people that speak English. Unless they’re fluent, it’s got to be VERY hard. 

All in all I think that, as negative as that sounds, English speakers don’t put as much effort into learning other languages as other countries do. Languages are fascinating and amazing things, so I think everyone should try and learn at least a little of another language. I mean, the benefits for you are numerous. Most importantly, you won’t be completely confused when you go to that country. Seriously, even looking up how letters are pronounced can give you some idea of how to say the words, even if you don’t know what they mean, and that (for me at least) was helpful, and made me feel better– not like I was saying/reading foreign words in a totally English accent, which is kind of annoying to me. Basically what I’m trying to say is that just because we are privileged enough to be fluent in the language of the moment doesn’t mean we shouldn’t bother to learn other languages. I mean, you could find that you actually really like that language, and eventually you could get fluent in it, and then how awesome would you feel?!

Now for the obligatory questions I like to leave for you, aside from the questions I’ve already asked up there. What language, or languages, did you learn in school? Are you fluent in any language aside from English? And what are your thoughts on the question: are English speakers lazy? Thanks for reading!

Your linguistic blogger, Jaz

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One comment on “Are English speakers lazy?

  1. Yes, the British people in general are lazy in that respect – even arrogant. Becoming fluent in other languages is the norm for Scandinavians and the Dutch and a little less so for the Germans. At the bottom of the pile are the Americans, closely followed by the French.

    Even though English is the ‘lingua franca’ in most multi-national companies, having a second and even a third and fourth language is an enormous benefit in business and surely makes it easier to enjoy being a tourist or holidaymaker.

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