Those who know nothing of foreign languages know nothing of their own. -Johann Wlkgang con Goethe.
Most Americans are not polyglots; one language–English–seems to be all we can handle. Most of us show no perfervid interest in learning other languages. Some are restive about the whole idea. Others flout people who do not speak English at all or hector those who don’t speak it well.
A number of American college graduates maneuvered their way through graduate and post-graduate schooling without learning a syllable of a foreign language at all. Some admit that they even changed majors, avoiding the study of another language entirely. Foreign language became their bet noire in school, and remains their bugbear to this day.
We have become somniferous deipnosophists. We prattle on about pedestrian notions of nothing–in just one language. We have become one-dimensional ignoramuses. We are as bad as those people of yesteryear who thought the world was flat.
Monoglots depend on gesticulation while traveling abroad or on the skills of others that actually learn diverse languages for communication. We have become detached flaneurs, navel-gazing spectators abroad, wiseacres who navigate between sciloism and common table talk. We aggrandize our place in the world and the importance of knowing English. We expect the world to dial in to us.
What is our desire–to extirpate the world of all languages, save English–to reduce the world to monoglotism and forcing them to become monoglots, just like us?
That would be like watching tv in black in white for the rest of our lives. And speaking of tv, I think it has turned our brains to mush and diluted our desires to the bubble of our limited existence. It has caused us to engage profusely in woolgathering instead of broadening our worlds through the serious pursuit of foreign language acquisition. It has isolated us from the world in slave/master relationships. In reality, we are the slaves–the slaves of the whole world’s ability to study and speak foreign languages. How we are dependent on them–to hear for us, to speak for us, to understand for us!
One word in a foreign language opens the doors of warm friendship and can bridge the gap between nations. Just one word. Think about the city of Berlin opening its arms to President Kennedy when he said, “Ich bin Berliner.” Think about Paul on Mars Hill in Greece when he addressed the crowd in Hebrew. He had their rapt attention. I am thinking about my one line in Russian, “Ya vam ochen blagadarna!” Translated: “I am extremely grateful.” I bring the house down with that one line everytime I use it. What could I do with three lines or 1000 words?
Even if I never traveled to a foreign country and had the opportunity to use a language I have studied, that one word to my foreign neighbor in his mother tongue has the power to mend a world of heartache, bridge a thousand rivers.
Even as I write this, I am cogitating the possibility… I know that if indeed I had studied other languages, I would be proficient in them…