Sunday, July 24, 2011

Why Most Americans Only Speak One Language

I know I said I wasn't going to post today, but there's a thing that's really irking me. The idea seems to be that Americans are less intelligent than the rest of the world because the majority of us only speak English.  

That number is falling, by the way, according to census reports, but I digress. 

The reason why most Americans don't learn more languages is because we don't have to. The area of Europe and the United States are roughly the same, with roughly the same number of countries in Europe as there are States in the US-- so the way we travel through states is how they travel through countries. Countries with other languages. 

So, you know those times when you make a wrong turn and after a while, if you drove long enough, you'd end up in a different state? Imagine if that were another country, with another language. From London to Italy is 2 hours by plane- the same length of time it takes to fly from Philadelphia to Orlando. I assure you they speak English in Florida. 

From London you can catch a train to Paris that takes 45 minutes. Down the street from my house there's a train station where if you get on a train and ride for 45 minutes you're still in New Jersey. French is the 10th most popular language in New Jersey as of 2000. See?

Now, I have absolutely no sense of direction at all. I close my eyes and spin around a couple times and I can say honestly I will have no idea what direction I will end up facing. If you're ever in a car with me and you ask me which way we should turn I will pick the wrong direction 100% of the time. If I were European learning several languages would be survival. 

From Portugal to Russia is roughly 3000 miles, the same approximate distance from New Jersey to California. From Portugal to Russia you pass through 11 countries with 10 different national languages, not to mention the co-official languages of which Russia has 27 alone. Number of languages between New Jersey and California? 1. 

Of course, yes, I know, English is not the US's national language. But it's spoken by 82.1% of the country. I'm literate in French but have never spoken it for any other reasons than "I was in French class" or "I feel like it." 

Okay, once or twice I spoke it because I was drunk and honestly couldn't get my thought out in English but those are very rare, isolated incidents. 

Americans aren't dumb because they don't speak multiple languages, they just don't want to spend valuable time and energy and headspace on an unnecessary skill. 

...Unnecessary skill that isn't something awesome like sword-fighting, I mean. 

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