English In All Its Glory
Throughout the world, you will find, with few exceptions, that English is the unofficial language of communication. Whether in Laos, Peru, Nigeria, or Spain, foreigners are greeted by the nationals in English ("Passing laws to promote English," Economic Trends, June 22).
The European Union has adopted English as its official language--even though Europe has more native speakers of German, Italian, and French.
The English language gives the communicator the ability to provide precise definitions. Many other languages, although lovely to listen to and artistically written, do not provide a medium in which accuracy dominates the context. This is of primary importance in business and law and simply accomplishing the daily requirements of life in a rapidly changing environment.
Most science and technology books, as well as medicine and law, are written in English. The market for books in English is much greater than for any other language. In order to stay abreast of the world, a good knowledge of English is a necessity.
The Internet, quickly becoming the dominant communication form in the world, is in English. Most of its instructions are in English. The English basis of this information system will be a great impetus to all English students to improve their skills--and to all who wish to use it, a reason to grasp at least a rudimentary knowledge of the language. As more and more of the world's information-distribution systems are based in English, the advantages of having good English skills will prove to be as great as the advantage of having the ability to read compared with illiteracy.
The greatest nation deserves to have the world's best and most international language as its official language--as English already is in Malaysia, India, Singapore, and the Philippines.
Dhahran, Saudi Arabia
Starting in September, Hong Kong will switch the teaching language in the schools from English to Chinese. If the government thinks that this is the best way to demonstrate loyalty to the motherland, it is making a big mistake. English is well acknowledged as the international language for business. The economic miracle of Hong Kong stemmed in large part from its use of English. Currently, the government talks about the priority of keeping Hong Kong in the world economic development forefront, but I believe this change of language definitely hurts its international image.
As a former Californian recently relocated to Brussels, I am in an interesting position to comment on the very sensitive topic of bilingual (or multilingual) cultures. When Belgium gained its independence in 1855, French was the one and only national language. But Flemish was added as an official language before the turn of the century. Today, visitors to Brussels find everything--and I mean everything--written in Flemish and French: street signs, menus, even metro stops and movie tickets. This is not a bad thing, as it certainly adds quite a bit to the cultural charm of the city.
But there are many notable drawbacks. For one, it breeds separatism. After all the bilingual effort, there is still a strong sentiment of enmity between the Flemish and French cultures. Further, as Belgium's economy is struggling to enter the digital era and meet the rigorous standards for monetary union as well, it finds itself in the sad position of requiring staff fluent in Flemish, French, and English. Since less than one-quarter of 1% of the world speaks anything even remotely similar to Flemish (including Dutch and Afrikaans), it's obviously difficult for the country to attract qualified technologists from outside the country.
Say all you want about reaffirming one's cultural identity, here in Belgium it is clearly not a question of "are we equal" but of "who is better?"