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World Association of International Studies

Post English as Lingua Franca; the Ugly Anglophone Tourist
Created by John Eipper on 10/30/13 2:05 AM

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English as Lingua Franca; the Ugly Anglophone Tourist (John Heelan, UK, 10/30/13 2:05 am)

Siegfried Ramler (29 October) mentions "the phenomenon of the English-speaking tourist who travels with the expectation that English will be mastered wherever he or she travels." Unfortunately, this is true and getting worse. Language learning at the college level (apart from Spanish) was described recently as being in free-fall. ("La lengua de Cervantes" survives due to its continuing to be the UK's favourite holiday destination.)

The net result is that many of my monoglot compatriots believe that if they speak English louder and slowly in a foreign country, it counts as a "foreign language." An amusing by-product of this paradigm is that the level of spoken English in these situations seems to rise to that of a "class" or two higher than the normal demotic of the speaker. Eavesdropping on English conversations in nearby restaurant tables, I often hear the normal conversation being in working- or middle-class tones. It not only increases in volume but also suddenly becomes "BBC Received Pronunciation" with upper-class overtones when speaking to the waiter.

The most cringe-making incident took place in a famous restaurant in Marbella. A generally obnoxious compatriot at the next table declaimed loudly to the waiter, "Let me show you how to make a proper champagne cocktail, old chap!" He thereby took him to the bar and showed him--equally loudly for the benefit of the restaurant, no doubt--what he should do. I was embarrassed for the waiter, who suffered the humiliation in silence but was doubtlessly thinking "¡que coño!" as many other diners were.

JE comments: "Proper" is a loaded word, oozing with judgment. I hope John Heelan will comment, but I believe it sounds even more obnoxious to Americans than to our British cousins.  Few things pique American pride more than a Brit instructing us on the "proper" way to do something.

Here's a lesson from Tourism 101:  don't insult the people who serve your food.  One thing's for certain:  that outspoken tourist's "proper" champagne cocktail also contained some clandestine waiter spit.

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  • English as Lingua Franca; the New Face of Tourism (Cameron Sawyer, Russia 10/31/13 3:50 AM)
    John Heelan's points (30 October) beg the question of how people are supposed to communicate when they are traveling as tourists?

    International tourism has changed profoundly during my lifetime. In my youth, most tourism in Europe was either native English speakers traveling around, or Northern Europeans going south. When my family spent a summer traveling around Europe in the 1960s when I was a child, we studied phrase books for each country before we got there. We mostly communicated in very poor Italian in Italy and very poor Spanish in Spain, for example (my mother spoke pretty good French, so France was not a problem). The people you encountered, in those days, in everyday situations, rarely spoke English, so the burden was on us, and very little real communication took place ("dove e la stazione?"). However, it always seemed to me that we were showing respect to the natives by having made the effort at least to memorize a few mangled phrases, and to have not assumed that they would have gone to the trouble to learn English just for our benefit.

    Fast forward a number of decades. Volumes of tourism have increased by orders of magnitude, and native English speakers no longer dominate, not hardly! First came the Germans, then came the Japanese, and now we have the Chinese and the Russians and really everyone else, too. I hardly see people with phrasebooks anymore. Contrary to John Heelan's experience, however, I have not observed any special presumptiousness about the English language among traveling native English speakers. What seems to have happened is this: the Russians and the Chinese and everyone else have gone to a lot of trouble to learn English, at least some phrases, so that they can communicate when traveling. In this day of cheap air travel, when you can go to a different country, speaking a different language, every vacation, or even every day if you like, the old phrase book system has broken down, and English as a lingua franca has taken its place. What I have seen is not Brits or Americans presuming that the whole world should speak English--which would be rather arrogant, since native speakers didn't go to any trouble to acquire the language--but Russians and Chinese getting frustrated with, say, French people, because they went to the trouble to learn a little English, and now what is this? This French person didn't even bother? Now what?

    In this day of cheap international air travel and cheap mass tourism which is now accessible to billions of people, some kind of lingua franca is the only solution. The more people learn one universal language, the more people can communicate with each other, and the greater the value of that language, hence still more and more learn it, and so forth. We passed the tipping point long ago with English in this role, and so it is only natural that the proportion of the world population speaking English will only grow. I am a believer in learning languages, and the more the better, but there's nothing fundamentally wrong with having one universal language. Communication is good.

    I was recently in Kazakhstan, where Russian continues to be used as the universal national language (it's called the "official language" of Kazakhstan; whereas Kazakh is the "national language"). Russian is also the regional lingua franca throughout Central Asia, and the Former Soviet Union, for that matter. Not nearly everyone speaks Kazakh, although knowing the Kazakh language is now fashionable and many non-speakers are learning it. The Kazakhs pride themselves on speaking an especially pure and sophisticated Russian (which they do, unlike the way Russian is spoken in Transcaucasia). Young people universally speak English. This seems to me like a superb approach, giving Kazakh people means to communicate with almost anyone, opening the whole world to them, while giving them a stake in different linguistic and cultural groups. Surely it's well worth the trouble of learning three languages.

    JE comments: Three languages seems to be the norm for WAISers. A very good thing--though may I smugly add, we are far from "normal."

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    • Language and Tourism (Tor Guimaraes, USA 10/31/13 11:07 AM)
      I completely agree with Cameron Sawyer's attitude and behavior during world travels (31 October), except I may be a little more extremist. To me the most fun comes from communicating with the natives in their language, following their customs (within reason), and learning from them. My wife gets somewhat annoyed, but I am perfectly happy to make a joke out of myself sometimes. Once, without trying, I made a bus load of Chinese commuters laugh their head off while I was trying to speak Chinese to my guide. I just cannot make some of the necessary sounds, so it becomes a diplomatic time bomb. Thus Chinese became the first language I tried to learn and gave up for fear of insulting someone.

      JE comments: Languages I've given up on: German (though I hope to return someday), and Japanese (alas, I'll save that for my next life).  Am I holding a grudge against the Axis powers?


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    • English as Lingua Franca; Language and Tourism (Charles Ridley, USA 11/07/13 3:39 AM)
      I usually make the attempt to speak the language of the country I am visiting. On our trip to Europe at the time of the WAIS conference in Torquay (2011), I did my best in the UK, although I sometimes fell short.

      I got along fairly well in Paris, as I was a French major during my first two years at Bates College. While my German is weak, I also tried to carry on in German when possible, particularly when ordering meals in restaurants. However, I found Danish, in spite of its close similarity to English, a bit too much of a challenge. In general, restaurant menus are a severe challenge because of the idiomatic ways in which dishes are described. The sincere attempt to speak in the language of a given country did elicit sympathetic responses on the part of native speakers even in Paris, particularly when I was looking for an art gallery in that city in which a Japanese-American friend was to exhibit some of his paintings.

      However, it is extremely difficult to start from scratch in the language of a country one is visiting for the first time.

      Language learning materials are something of a problem these days. The best are based on State Department language textbooks, which do not seem to be available on the market any more.

      JE comments: Great to hear from our dear friend Charles Ridley, who as I recall got on admirably with the natives of Torquay! Charles brings up an important point: when you are starting from scratch as a tourist, there's not much you can do other than learn a few of the simplest "survival" terms. This was the case for me a few years ago in Hungary.

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  • "Proper" and its Proper Context (John Heelan, UK 10/31/13 4:27 AM)
    JE wrote on 30 October: "'Proper' is a loaded word, oozing with judgment. I hope John Heelan will comment, but I believe it sounds even more obnoxious to Americans than to our British cousins."

    Perhaps the received import of the word is just as bad on both sides of the Atlantic. In the UK it is usually delivered as an implicit insult with a slight sneer and a knowing look.

    I have written before about the US innocent usage in the UK of the word "quite" as in "quite good." Instead of meaning "very good" as often intended, a UK interpretation is "Mmm! This is unexpectedly and surprisingly well cooked! Wonders will never cease!" This is usually a cue for a rapid exit of the cook to the kitchen, followed by slammed doors and clashing sounds of pots and pans.

    There is a difference in usage excuse for "quite" but no excuse for "proper," especially when delivered to somebody who prides themselves on their professional service as do Spanish waiters.

    JE comments: As an aside, I've noticed that very few under the age of 30 know what a "proper noun" is.  Nor do they understand the proper English usage of the apostrophe.

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    • Other Forgotten Subtleties of English (Paul Preston, UK 10/31/13 9:00 AM)
      To add to John Heelan's and JE's list (31 October), what about those on both sides of the Atlantic who don't know how to differentiate between number and amount? Or those politicians who seem to think that "going forward" means "next," "in the future" or "from now on."

      Even more alarming is the substitution of specific emphatics (he did, didn't he; we showed them, didn't we) with a bizarre translation of ¿verdad?, vero? Nicht wahr, n'est-ce pas etc.--"isn't it" is usually pronounced "init."

      JE comments:  Shall we open the floor for other language pet peeves? For some time I've been planning a Safire-style post for WAIS on the rise of the "solution" as a weasel word for anything people want you to buy--as in "IT solutions," retirement portfolio solutions," or with a nod to the season, "your Halloween candy solutions."

      An interesting topic, init?

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