Monday, July 23, 2007

ESL speakers too lazy to learn a third language

The Economist has a bit about the consequences of the dominance of English in Europe. One point I'd never considered before was that people are not learning other languages.
"The rush to learn English can sometimes hurt business by making it harder to find any staff who are willing to master less glamorous European languages.

English is all very well for globe-spanning deals, suggests Hugo Baetens Beardsmore, a Belgian academic and adviser on language policy to the European Commission. But across much of the continent, firms do the bulk of their business with their neighbours. Dutch firms need delivery drivers who can speak German to customers, and vice versa. Belgium itself is a country divided between people who speak Dutch (Flemish) and French. A local plumber needs both to find the cheapest suppliers, or to land jobs in nearby France and the Netherlands."

But what do you do to avoid this problem? Apparently, there is research "by the European Commission suggesting that this risk can be avoided if school pupils are taught English as a third tongue after something else." Given the spectacular failure of most high schools worldwide to teach a second language, I wonder at the practicality of this solution.

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