Languages and the Anglosphere

I read this comment piece on the Guardian website the other day, about the decline of Europe in the British cultural and political imagination, and the way this is reflected in our seemingly woeful capacity to learn foreign languages. On the same day, we got reminded at work that we can now apply for something called a “Learning Works” voucher, which can be spent on a host of adult education classes offered by the university or outside institutions. Probably the most popular of these would be language classes, and I’ve been giving serious thought to taking them up on the offer. It wouldn’t cost me anything, and at the moment I have only phrase-book facility in French and Italian, and … that’s about it. In a much broader sense I think the author of the article is right, and no matter how geographically broad the “Anglosphere” may be, focusing only on countries that speak our language limits us terribly. (I’d also like to see the UK unshackle itself as much as possible from the USA, and although I have absolutely no evidence to support this, I think if more people spoke at least one European language it would seem less acceptable, or less natural, to link so much of our foreign policy to whatever the White House decrees.) My German sister in law, for example, speaks German (no surprise there), English, Spanish, and a smattering of Russian (before the Wall came down), and I imagine most Europeans have a fairly good handle on at least one other language apart from their own, even if it is just English. I bow to no one in my love of the English language, but it could only be a benefit to have some understanding of the way another language constructs meaning and expression.

What I want to do though is approach a language of which I have no prior experience. I could do a refresher French course, or German, but if it’s all laid on for free I may as well approach something that would be more of a risk. I suppose, given the probable economic trajectory of the world in the next couple of decades, Mandarin would be the best idea, but I think I’m going to go for Russian. The alphabet is completely different, without being ideogrammatic like Chinese, and, like English, Russian has a pleasingly massive vocabulary. (Although claims about vocab size should always be qualified with this.) And, as mentioned in an earlier post, I’ve been reading a lot of early Nabokov lately, and I’m becoming slightly obsessed with the idea of the country.

I’ll have a think about it anyway. Learning a language is difficult and takes a great deal of time and work, and never really ends, but for the moment I like the idea.

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