Towards the end of Queen Victoria’s reign, the British Empire extended to one-fifth of the earth’s surface and almost a quarter of the world’s population at least theoretically owed allegiance to our Monarch and the ‘Mother country’.
The civil service that administered this vast dominion spoke English –those who held aspiration to be employed in an official capacity clamoured to learn English. By the time most of us were born, the world map was still largely coloured red, and we grew up with an acceptance that other people would make the effort to learn our language. Speaking a foreign language was associated with the deference due to a dominating power –not an attitude that the British adopt easily.
The Internet has exchanged information on a scale hitherto unimaginable; however, if you look around the blogs, particularly the political blogs, you will see many learned and articulate articles on Australian politics, and a welter of comment on American politics –drawn from articles and information printed in English.
Yet English is the first language of a mere 7% of the world’s population. 75% of the world speaks no English whatsoever. When we write in English or read in English, we confine ourselves to a mere quarter of the information, and communicate our ideas with a mere quarter of the world.
It is extraordinary that we accept our young men dying in Afghanistan to enforce the idea of democracy, yet it seems outlandish that we should try to pass on the idea of democracy in words that an Afghan blogger could comprehend. It doesn’t even occur to us that we should make the effort.
Today is Multi-lingual Blogging day, part of a series of initiatives organised by the European Commission to mark the European day of languages. Even the Foreign Office has become involved –they will be pushing out posts today in French, Tagalog, Spanish, Ukranian and Arabic.
Little wonder that the Foreign Office has become involved; for all our whinging about being ruled by a ‘foreign power’ in Brussels, we, who are a 12% segment of Europe, play little part in that rule. A mere 1.8% of the European Commission’s staff is British.
Why? Because the entry requirement for the European Union’s civil service exams demand that the paper be sat in a second language. They don’t stipulate which second language; it can be any second language from amongst the babel of tongues spoken in Europe, and that has effectively kept the British out of the many thousands of jobs available in the EU. Britain has recently forced a change in those rules, lowered the bar that insisted candidates were at least bi-lingual, because it was just too difficult for us.
I have been an enthusiastic supporter of the E-Blogs initiative. E-Blogs will take your words and ideas, and translate them into French, German, Italian and Spanish to enable you to communicate with your near neighbours. They equally take blog posts written in those languages and publish them in English –so that you may take an interest in the political occurrences in those countries without speaking a word of their language. It is a wonderful opportunity to broaden your horizons even if you were educated under a Labour Government that removed languages from the core curriculum leaving you handicapped for a life in Europe. You don’t need to be a pro-EU enthusiast to comprehend the advantages of being able to communicate with your nearest neighbours rather than restrict yourself to an Anglo-American view of the world.
Do contact Laurent at E-Blogs, let him see the posts that you think might be appreciated by those who don’t speak your language. Or click on E-blogs and see what others have been saying in languages you don’t understand. Better still –on Multi-lingual Blogging Day, make the effort to push out a post in another language, and hashtag it #babel on Twitter, you may be surprised at the response.
If you really can’t be bothered, you could always post “Qu’est-ce que ça peut foutre” –at least that way, more of the world will understand your determination to remain confined by your language skills.