There's a joke that's told around the world. It goes like this: What do you call someone who speaks three languages? Trilingual. And someone who speaks two languages? Bilingual. And someone who speaks just one language? Answer: An American. It's a joke that's told behind "our" backs--but it's true. If you're an American born into an English-speaking household, you probably speak one language: your own. But once you cross the ocean or head to a southern continent, it's a different story. I met a 38 year old Norwegian on the Inca Trail in the heart of the Peruvian Andes. He lived his entire life in a small city in northern Norway, and had only been exposed to English through the educational system and television. His English was fluent.
There are many like him. Imagine yourself in a youth hostel in Europe sitting at dinner with a German, an Italian, and a Dane. They will apologize for their English, and then chat away as if they were from your hometown, albeit with a charming accent and more often than not, better grammar. They probably also speak a third or fourth language, just like many others throughout the world. According to the Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language an international business executive in the Netherlands speaks four languages on average, Japanese executives three, and American executives one and a half languages.
What's half a language?
George W. Bush claims he speaks Spanish, but I'd imagine it's certainly no more than "half." The media reports he's fluent, but does anyone really believe he speaks another language when his English is at best, "a West Texas version of Ebonics," (to borrow a phrase from Mark Crispin Miller's "The Bush Dyslaxcion?") Can anyone picture George Bush conversing fluently in the language of Cervantes with President Vincente Fox of Mexico? Or curled up with "Don Quioxite" at Camp David? Not likely. As Ben Tripp reports in "A Guide to Gibberish in the Age of Bush, "Of course the president speaks Spanish. In Texas, you need a little Spanish if you want the lawn mowed right, the hay bales stacked in the barn instead of the garage."
But to speak a complete language is quite a feat, and that's fluency, by which I mean a command over a foreign tongue equal to the command you have over your own language. Fluency means that any idea, emotion, concept, or information that you can convey in English, you can convey in the other language. And if you're not fluent in a second language you're a beginner, an intermediate, an advanced speaker, or you have zero-language, nada, nothing, zilch.
As one travels the world, it is becoming increasingly apparent that monolingual Americans are taking their Zero Language (their nada, nothing and zilch) out into the world, and expecting the world to speak back to them in English. An acquaintance of mine recently toured Belgium, Germany and France. I asked if he knew any languages, if he could say "please" or "thank you." He said he did not know. I asked what level of English he encountered.
"Belgium was the best," he said. "And Germany was pretty good," implying a positive value on their ability to speak to him. And then he added, "But I was surprised, because on the Champs Elysees, in the pastry shops right by the hotel, they couldn't speak English. It was as if they were saying, hey, if you can't speak my language, I can't help you."
Well, I don't think those Parisian pastry shop employees fulfill the stereotype of the arrogant French. I think they were voicing (or rather not voicing), a legitimate complaint: "why do you assume I speak your language, and since you're here, why aren't you making the slightest attempt to learn mine?" Is this French arrogance, or a simple call for some consciousness of surroundings and modicum of manners?
My brother, a member of the clergy, exchanged his ministry with that of one in Germany. He is an advanced speaker if not fluent. Visiting a German pastor's house, the pastor's wife turned to him and said, "It is so refreshing to speak German. You wouldn't believe how many Americans simply assume we speak English. It's laughable."
It is laughable and more than a little sad. I have been in situations abroad where Americans and Brits, address the residents of the country where they are travelling in English. They'll do this even when they know enough language to make simple requests. They'll speak English to their waiter in Tuscany, to the owner of a hotel in northern Spain, to vendors on the beaches of the Yucatan, and to the vegetable sellers in the markets of Oaxaca.
How do the recipients react? Some are embarrassed, because they speak no English, or because they're shy about the English they know. Many are fluent in English. They have enjoyed studying the language and like to use it. Since their English is better than the traveller's foreign language, they prefer to speak in English. There is also that particular type of discourse when one party knows a little English, and the other knows a bit of the native tongue. The most common form is "Span-glish," but its equivalent exists in almost all languages: Germ-glish, Italia-glish, Ara-glish, etc. This form of hybrid language takes a bit of a clowning. Both parties use a lot of "eye-language" (pointing, gesturing, smiling, and grimacing) as opposed to "ear-language" (speaking, listening and understanding-- as well as writing and reading, which "speak" to the mind's "ear"). And many non-English speakers flat-out don't understand a word of English and resent it when English-speakers assume that they do.
Who is speaking to whom and where is an important distinction in the study of the current English conversations in the world. The Vietnamese paperboy trying to collect money along his route in the suburbs of America will find very little patience for his broken English. However, in every country in the world, even the smallest attempt by an American to speak the language of the land is often greeted with a joy and celebration totally out of proportion to the meagre efforts it took to produce the smattering of speech.
Steve Dutch in "Crossing Borders" advises American travellers, "if you must speak English, treat it as a courtesy on their part to do it. Don't assume everyone can or wants to speak English. The French have a reputation for being unsympathetic to non-French speakers, but I spent a delightful day in Paris with a friend who practically had people eating out of his hand. The magic phrase? 'Excuse me? Do you speak English?' This phrase was spoken in a respectful tone, as if to acknowledge that is was a courtesy, not a right. The results were incredible."
It truly is "incredible" that these beleaguered Parisians appear to be so used to American tourists babbling English at them that they are actually thankful when someone asks them first, in English--"Do you speak English?" Indeed, would it be that difficult to learn how to say, "Parlez-vous anglais?" Apparently by Steve Dutch's account, such minimal command of a foreign phrase would win the astonished tourist a private dinner with Prime Minister Jacques Chirac if not installation as one of the "Les Immortels" at the Academie Francaise.
But I think some kind of award is justified because Americans have an almost innate sense that other languages are impossible to learn and once learned, Americans are timid about using them. Non-English speakers, who live near other language groups, assume other languages can be learned and they learn them. Americans did not have the same necessity or the same perception. This situation is ironic for two reasons. First, while Americans are considered monolingual, American methods of foreign language instruction (based on a theory of "contextualized-learning") is a very effective teaching style for Americans. It is interactive, class-centered and teaches grammar as the speaking or the context demands that a grammar point is mastered. Language instruction abroad is often too formal for beginning learners because it is an older teaching style that is top-down, teacher-centered and emphasizes the study of grammar for its own sake, independent of a given context. In other words, an Italian language class taught in America by a progressive school will get you "talking" and interacting in Italian far faster than an Italian class in a language school in Florence. Secondly, when Americans do speak a foreign language abroad, there is such an enthusiastic "listening" and "openness" for the "speaking" the most awkward beginner feels only encouragement and support--and yes, even in France.
While fluency is difficult to obtain, with study and bravado, a language can be learned and used. The beginner with a firm grasp of the basics has a surprising range of communicative power available to him or her. I work out at a local YMCA. The janitor is Somalian. His English is basic, with present tense, some past, and a little future. Yet, with this beginning understanding of English, every time I go to visit, he is engaged in a variety of English conversations with the patrons, often explaining the culture and history of his country. Talk to any traveller who has gone abroad with some language. Their most memorable experiences are often the conversations that they had in the native tongue.
But many Americans speak English abroad, and when they do, English is often spoken back to them. That's because of a few simple facts.
Fact #1: America is now the most powerful country in the world, as our current president likes to remind us and often reminds everyone else.
Fact # 2: Americans in power speak English.
Fact #3: For the first time in human history, there is a dominant world language, and it's English.
It's not hard to connect the dots.
As AP National Writer Ted Cooper notes in his articles on the web regarding language, there is now "one tongue" for the "new global village" and that language is English. It is the language of science, technology, international business, diplomacy, the Internet, the world-wide network of hospitality and travel, and the language of "globalized" American popular culture in the form of brand names, advertising slogans, music, movies, television programming and celebrities.
Never before in the history of the world has one particular language ever been so pervasive and dominant. The rich, educated and powerful have shared a language in the past. Latin was the language of scholarship and learning in Western Europe throughout the Middle Ages. French was the language of international diplomacy in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. But neither of those historical eras comes close to the dominance of English as the "Super-Sized" lingua for an American-Driven, Global-Mega-Culture.
As a result, non-English speakers around the world are learning English as fast as they can. They are learning English in order to wait on your table, check you into a hotel, and sell you a pastry. They're learning English in order to gain opportunities, advance in their careers, access the global information system, compete in the marketplace, or immigrate to the United States. And they're learning English in self-defence against a juggernaut of English speakers.
The Cambridge Encyclopedia of English reports that there are now 300 million mother-tongue speakers of English, 300 million speakers of English as a second language, and 100 million people who speak it fluently as a foreign language. The number of English speakers is now almost one-sixth of the world's population and others estimate that as many as one-quarter of the planet now speaks the language. Cooper reports that one billion people are now studying English around the world, thanks in part to the huge popularity of English studies in China over the last decade
And if others in the world aren't actively studying English, they are listening to it. When I said good-bye to my English speaking Norwegian friend on the Inca Trail, I stopped in a small store, a "tienda", at the end of the road in the town of Agua Calientes (population, 400). The shop was being looked after by a young Peruvian girl of about fifteen years of age. She was listening to the "Sonic Jihad" CD by American rapper Paris. It's the CD with the photo-shop image of a 747 headed for the White House. I asked her in Spanish if she knew what the words meant. She said no, but she liked the beat. Scenes like these, which are being repeated around the world, offer a rich line of inquiry for the psycho-linguistic, ethno-musicologists amongst us as well as testimony to the sinister ubiquity of American culture.
Of course, level-headed people of different languages agree, as Cooper notes, that the world needs and benefits by a shared language in order "to make money, to make peace, to share knowledge with fewer obstacles, and avoid misunderstanding." The vision of a shared language as a vehicle for promoting human understanding and intercourse has been a long-standing hope of many linguists. The most idealistic example is the language of Esperanto, created in 1887 by Dr. Ludwig L. Zamenhof, a Polish physician. It was created to serve as an easy-to-learn, politically unbiased, global language. The Esperanto League of North America still holds out hope that, "Esperanto esta la moderna, kultura lingvo por la tuta mondo."
Technocrats envision audio-computer programs as the bridge across language barriers. Newsweek reports that Special Forces in Iraq were armed with "Phraselators." This handy device is "able to store up to 30,000 recorded phrases." Punch in the right code and it will say (in your choice of Urdu, Arabic or Chinese) such phrases as: "'Stop or I'll Shoot,' 'Where does it hurt?' and 'Can you show me that on his map?'" However, the "Phraselator" only speaks, but cannot understand. The listener must act out the answer. The Pentagon, Newsweek tell us, is working on a model that offers simultaneous audio-translation for two-way conversations.
I don't know about you, but I don't want to be dining in Paris at Tour d'Argent, the three-star Michelin restaurant (the highest ranking), when my companion pulls out a "Phraselator" in order to order wine and a four-course meal. And I'm sure if you used a "Phraselator" in a club in Madrid you'd get plenty of attention, but very few dances. These sort of technological linguistic proposals have other equally diabolical applications. McDonald's now has talking trashcans. God Save Us All, if they adopt "Phraselator" technology. People in America will be conversing with their favorite fast-food trashcans and what's next? A secret internet camera to record these intimate encounters? A talk show with a trash can host?
But we all have to talk to each other somehow, and in a linguistic version of "We Are The World," English is seen as a benign tool for the common good. "In the departure lounge of the Murtala Muhammad National Airport in Lagos, Nigeria," reports Cooper. "Yang Bao Zhong, a contractor from Tainjin, China, wants to know when his plane leaves. He approaches a counter staffed by a Yoruba woman. "Yes? What is it?" she says in English." Mr. Bao Zhong grins with relief. They share a common language, which facilitates every aspect of international discourse. It works for everything from simple travel arrangements to anti-ballistic missile negotiations.
But language is also a carrier of culture. English, rather than being a "shared" language, it's the dominant language of the world. The use of English is seen as a clear necessity of survival, rather than a choice. It can be seen as further testimony to a Western and American cultural hegemony over the globe. Many fear, as Cooper points out, that the dominance of English will reduce "the ways that humans can express themselves" and force upon people "a way of life they don't want."
Where dollars go, so goes the American way-of-life and with it, English. Everyone wants a better life, but they also want their cultures to stand sovereign, and create their own interruptions of a changing world within their own cultural context. The Westernization of global youth culture is just one such example, where American fashion, American music, and American English is adopted wholesale, without any critical re-interpretation. The Greeks called non-Greeks "barbaroi" which means the babble of foreign speech, and hence we have the word "barbarians." In this context, many abroad see English speakers and the English language as a foreign invader seeking to dominant the planet, a "barbarian" at the gates, demanding access to a sovereign culture in a foreign tongue. But language and cultural images not only make demands, they also seduce. In a movie theatre in Guatemala, I sat in an audience of Mayan Indian families, many in traditional dress, as we watched a Spanish-subtitled Sylvester Stallone film. The boys outside on the street after the show mimicked his brand of grunting English speaking and re-enacted fight scenes.
Non-English speaking nations are fighting this "linguistic imperialism," but at this point, it's a rear-guard action. Many countries, including France, Denmark and Iceland, charge their language academies with the responsibility to search common speech for English words creeping into the standard, spoken language and then creating a native language substitute. Hence, in Iceland, they have created a new word for a mobile phone. Next time you are in Reykjavik, remember that it's a "farsimi" that's ringing in your pocket.
Even in America, who speaks English and who doesn't remains a national issue. The English-Only crowd, led by such luminaries as Pat Buchanan, insists that unless we mandate English only, everywhere, 24 hours a day, America will become a "Tower of Babble." The argument, under close inspection, reveals itself to be pernicious "code" for an anti-immigration, whites-only, policy. As Geoffrey Nunberg reports in "Lingo Jingo: English Only and the New Nativism," the English-only movement "has been successful because it provides a symbolic means of registering dissatisfaction with a range of disquieting social phenomena--immigration, yes, but also multi-culturalism, affirmative action, and even public assistance" which is known to some in some circles as "linguistic welfare."
It may seem to many English-speaking American urbanites that we are living in a "Tower Of Babble." Fighting over a parking space in San Francisco last month, I was yelled at in both Russian and Mandarin. But the fact is that the majority of immigrants to the United States speak English, and if they can't speak it, they want to learn how. Cooper reports that English classes across the United States are filled with immigrant students and some 50,000 students in Los Angles County alone are on a waiting list for an opening. As Nunberg notes, "the actual Census figure for residents who speak no English is only 1.9 million--proportionately only a quarter as high as it was in 1890, at the peak of the last great wave of immigration. Or to put it another way: more than 97 percent of Americans speak English well, a level of linguistic homogeneity unsurpassed by any other large nation in history."
As Cooper notes, linguists like to say that language is "a dialect with an army and a navy." And now throughout the world, that language is English and the culture it carries is that of American consumerism and its attendant political agenda. Lyn Cowan essay on language that appears in her book, "Tracking the White Rabbit: A Subversive View of Modern Culture" reminds us of an earlier exploration by an author into the political function of language: "In 1949 George Orwell published his book '1984,' portraying a dismal society in which people were absolutely controlled in their thought and behavior by a reduction in words. The language of that futuristic society was called 'Newspeak,' and its intention was to 'make speech as nearly as possible independent of consciousness.' The idea wasn't so much to subvert thought as to eliminate it, by depleting the meaning of words and reducing the number of words available."
Cowan goes on to argue in that the language of popular psychology has become the "Newspeak of our daily lives" and is a form of Mental Speak. The vocabulary of Mental Speak includes such words as "addiction, dysfunctional, relationship, boundary, depression, personal growth, abuse, wellness, wholeness, appropriate, issue, and sharing." It is a mind-language that tends to keep us "in the mind only, decapitated, above and on the surface of life." These terms produce this result because these words are not connected to the body, and therefore rather than exploring our true pain have a function of keeping us comfortably and agreeably anesthesized. And like Orwell's Newspeak, and Cowan's Mental Speak, American Zero-Speak guarantees a similar disconnection.
Zero-Speak is in fact, a quintessential post-modern experience. Without language to anchor one to the immediate environment, Zero-Speak assigns one to the passive role of a completely privatized experience, because no non-English speaker can affect you with words. Zero-Speak travellers have a tendency to seek a hyper-reality of great palaces, museums and landscapes because there is no access to the ordinary or real. In fact, the ordinary or real has no meaning.
Zero-Speak is a reduction of self to an economic unit. It says to the world "I am here only to consume--to eat, to look, to watch--because my speech has no meaning and my listening no comprehension." Zero-Speak advocates the establishment of a worldwide consumer culture that will then organize consumer experiences for us, in our own language. The world becomes one great International Food Court without the embarrassing necessity of speaking any foreign tongues. Zero-Speak is the unconscious acceptance that we are the dominant culture speaking to a subordinate culture. The monolingual American trying to make a train connection in Munich will be accommodated. Do you think a Somalian with no English would have such luck at the Greyhound Station in Toledo, Ohio? I think not.
In Zero-Speak, the foreignness and "strangeness" we seek through travel to other cultures is only the existential strangeness of disconnection, acute and romanticized versions of our lives at home, but with better food.
I have not enjoyed my travels in Zero-Speak.
I was invited to Naples, Italy in 1991 while Gulf War I was still raging. I made the arrangements hastily, and within one week of my decision to leave I blasted across the country toward New York, changed planes and arrived at the Paris Airport. I had twenty minutes to catch a plane to Rome. I did not know where the next gate was. I tried to interpret the signs. I searched everywhere. I was lost and desperate. Full of foreboding, I approached a French police officer. I had Zero Language. I explained I did not know French and pled my case in English. He looked at me with a sorry and tired contempt pointed his finger south, and I was on my way.
I arrived in Rome late in the evening, and was driven to a country home outside of Naples. I awoke the next morning, exhausted and addle-brained from the rigors of jet travel. Carrying our espressos, we walked into the garden. My host rented part of the house from a Neapolitan couple. They were working a patch of vegetables. I was introduced in Italian to the owner. I stretched out my hand and without thinking and since I was in Zero-Speak, I said in English, "Nice to meet you." Not everyone in the world can or wants to speak English. He didn't. He thought I was rude. My host was upset. I was upset. Welcome to world travel in Zero-Speak.
There at that moment in the garden, I realized that my rate of speed in the world had outpaced my ability to process language. It had been a fourteen hour flight from New York to Paris and then to Rome. I could have broken out a phrase book and marked my pages. But no, I hurtled through space in Zero-Speak. Where language is, questions of identity are never far away. I did not like who I was being in the world. I vowed there in the garden, with the old Italian looking at me with sad and tired eyes, that I would never travel in Zero-Speak again.
I am no linguist.
German in high school was one of my worst subjects. I barely passed my language requirement in college. Yet, at the age of forty-three, I decided to learn Spanish, even though I was face-to-face with what language educators call "maturational constraints" which is a fancy word for "the decline in language learning skills brought about by changes in the brain from early childhood to late adolescence."
Believe me, such a condition exists. I've got it, bad.
I have studied in the United States and various immersion programs abroad, from Quetzeltenago, Guatemala to Santo Domingo. After one year of studies, Spanish speakers were pleased with my efforts but my monolingual American friends were appalled I was not yet fluent. Foreign languages, according to many that have never tried to acquire them, are easy to learn.
Now some eight years later, on a good day I am an advanced speaker, the other days an intermediate, and at least one day a week, I can't remember a damn thing. Such is the journey of language that is not your own. But now, when I travel abroad in a Spanish-speaking country, every day is a delight, because I am in interaction and exchange with the people who live there. Certainly if your goal to travel to and within another culture, there is no better way than to make your way in a language. Sign up for a language school in the smallest town you can find in the country of your choice. You will have an unforgettable experience.
Of course, even the most motivated will be daunted by some trips.
If your life's dream is to cross Afghanistan, you'll travel through at least 40 different language groups. The major ones are Pashto, Farsi, Dari, Tajik, Azgari (a language related to Farsi), Uzbek, Turkmen, Berberi/Aimaq and Baluchi. All have at least 200,000 speakers but to simplify matters, Pashto and Farsi are the two largest, with a total speaking population of 14 million. You could start your studies with those.
Impossible you say?
A friend of mine and his fiancee recently went to Thailand to teach English. They left with Zero Language. They travelled Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam, and in each country, they mastered the simple greetings, the polite requests, the respectful inquiries and the ability to volunteer personal information, which is the foundation of respectful exchanges between people.
While Zero-Speak tourists clung to the well-worn paths of English-Speak, these two spend enjoyable hours walking the markets and alleys of Bangkok far away from the dog-paths of American sightseers.
Of these two groups, who was really there?
We're a little weird on the subject of languages. At one point in the tortured history of American language studies there was an argument that a second language took up memory capacity needed for the real function of the brain, such as intelligence. In other words, learning a language made you stupid. Like British colonialism in Africa, American colonialism on the continent did its level best to eradicate the Amerindian languages with English-only education. Anti-language sentiment was at its height in America during World War I. My maternal grandmother and great grandmother stopped speaking German to each other in public places because of intolerance for the voice of the "Hun." At the same time, nearly half the states banned foreign language instruction. Today, seventy percent of those who graduate from American colleges are not required to learn a foreign language, while in Europe, it is requirement for graduation, and a level of speaking proficiency has to be demonstrated.
At only three points in American history has their been "a renaissance language education", notes Richard Brecht, director of the National Foreign Language Center, in an interview with the Chicago Tribune. Each period of renewed interest in language studies has been linked to national security issues. The first surge of interest came with the end of World War II as Americans turned to rebuilding Europe and the world. The second came after the Russians "won the space race" when their basketball sized satellite, Sputnik 1, made the first orbit of the earth in 1957. Immediately afterward, the US-USSR space race was on, and the federal government poured money into universities in support of Russian language studies. And immediately after 9-11, FBI Director Robert Mueller pleaded before Congress and the American public for the aid of Americans with skills in Arabic, Farsi, and Pashtu.
In fact, the Education Department has just established the nation's first consortium of Middle Eastern language studies.
Brigham Young University.
The university emphasizes foreign language studies as part of their training of international Mormon missionaries, proving once again, that where language is, politics and identity are not far behind.
Yet, if you fear that such politically motivated foreign language studies will flood the Middle East with a crusade-like force of neo-conservative, multilingual Christians, don't be too concerned. According to the Modern Language Association, only thirty students nationwide are currently studying Punjabi, a major language spoken in Pakistan.
Unfortunately, it is Zero-Speak that stands as the biggest threat to the world and as we allow Zero-Speak to creep into our travels, we are helping to reduce the very "foreignness" that we have left our country to seek.
I attended a freshman orientation when my oldest son went to college. The head of the language department made a pitch for the study of foreign languages. He showed us a graph showing a correlation between foreign language study and improvement in other academic areas. He argued that the world was a global marketplace, and a foreign language skill would help one get a job. He told us that learning a foreign language was vital to America's national security interests and was essential for the promotion of peace in the world. He argued that such studies would make one a "better person"--more culturally astute and truly "educated."
In truth, the stakes are much higher and the rewards are even greater for even a minimal command over a foreign tongue. I think the head of the language department should have stood up, flanked by his multilingual staff, and made the following appeal.
* * *
It is time for a revolution in American speaking, and through speech, a revolution in thought. When one speaks a language other than one's own, it's what Erving Goffman, ethnologist, would call "breaking frame" as you "transgress" the implicit acceptance that English is the lingua franca of the world. Speaking another language rather than your mother tongue is a conscious choice to support and celebrate a multi-lingual world awash in the cries and the poetry, the literature and the aspirations of many tongues. Like reading a book rather than watching television, biking or walking rather than driving, and making your own lunch instead of standing in line in a "Fast-Food Nation", Not Speaking English is an assertion of individual political will and consciousness against a world that is closing off opportunities for human expression.
Not Speaking English gives you access to new parts of yourself, parts and corners that have never been expressed, because at last they can be released only in another language, only by mastery of another set of sounds and grammatical structures. It is one thing to experience love in English, but to express love in Spanish, to dance in French, to shout in Laotian, and rage against the world in Russian are personal acts of sonic liberation. These new sounds penetrate into your molecular structure, de-constructing your culturally inherited persona, and allowing you to become fully self-expressed and even more importantly, newly self-expressed.
The simple fact is you cannot possibly be the same person in another language as the person you are in your own. You are you, and also "you" within the context of another fundamentally different communicative mode. You are you--but French. You are you--but Arab. You are you--but Laotian. In this way, Not Speaking English is equal to years of talk-analysis because every day is an opportunity for self-observation, self-knowledge, and delightful epiphanies. As a Scottish woman told me, following her first successful adventures abroad in the French language, "I felt that I was in a different part of my brain...a nicer one."
And who can hope or claim to know their own language until they have studied another? The study of irregular verbs, the function of tenses, the conjugation of verbs, all demand that you learn how these function in your own language. You learn that certain American expressions cannot be understood within another language and vice a versa. These key expressions and truths and concepts can never be understood or experienced with English only translation. As you seek to speak another language, you demand more precision from your own language. You listen with greater care to what is being said to you. And in turn, you re-capture your mother tongue, a veritable linguistic re-birth, as you now speak your own language with greater care and grace. Post-modern cultural theorists argue that "language does the speaking for us" and if this is true, Not Speaking English assures that you begin to speak for yourself.
Despite the on-going argument of what constitutes a language versus a dialect, most references estimate that there are between 4,000 to 5,000 languages currently spoken in the world. It is time to look into your heart, and ask what language you would like to speak in the world aside from your own. So take a deep breath, and using the speech organs of lungs, vocal chords, throat, soft palate, nose, tongue and lips, allow the sounds of your newly chosen language to resonate to your soul, awakening long dormant centers of consciousness, as you cry out, in French or Farsia, German or Dutch, Spanish or Thai, Arabic or Bengali: "Now, now I am ready to be in the world!"
Copyright 2003 by Curtis West. All rights reserved.