My recent overseas travels have really made me notice that language is a big deal. I’m not talking about foul language, but I’m talking about different languages and how they affect how people interact. First of all, it amazes me that in Europe, in bordering countries sometimes not much bigger than some of the individual United States, people speak completely different languages and they can’t understand each other. I don’t think people here fully realize what this means. To put it in perspective, it’s like going from Illinois to Pennsylvania and not being able to get by at a restaurant. Learning the bare essentials can be tough and even if you know the words and the grammar, the pronunciation is a totally different story. I studied 3 years of high school French, (which was a long time ago), and it really helped in Paris when I read or tried to speak. Still, I can barely understand French when it is spoken to me as words roll together into a continuum oblivion. Had I known German words, it might have been easier to understand as the words seem more succinct. As I also found with Italian, French requires lots of expressiveness, and like German, the words and sentences can be long.
Perhaps the biggest issue with language barriers is that they make you feel stupid and frustrated. You don’t know when to use English or native language X. You try speaking, and the natives don’t understand. They speak, and you don’t understand. Everything that you take for granted becomes a mini ordeal. I think I wasted 20% of my time traveling due to the fact that I wasn’t fluent in the languages of the countries I visited. At my work meetings, my European coworkers were always posed with the dilemma of promoting understanding with customers versus speaking to allow me to understand what they were saying.
We do need a common language, (besides love, math or Esperanto (which I think was a good idea)). I would say that English should be, (and probably is), the right universal language for technology. I’m not trying to be arrogant. Even though it’s a badass mutt of a language that breaks all its own rules, its words are generally short and we don’t use crazy accents or special characters that slow down typing or are a pain to display. For speaking, I think English improves efficiency because our words like “hi and bye” are shorter than their counterparts in other languages. (I have seen increased use of ciao in Europe though). We also make liberal use of ways to shorten longer words with contractions like “don’t or wouldn’t.” This saves time… which saves money.
Luckily for us, English is already somewhat universal. Perhaps we owe that to Hollywood’s and American music have been global. One could also point to the fact that the U.S. is a huge country that has developed lots of technology. Plus, the British colonies still have a large language legacy. After all I’ve learned about the harsh realities of language barriers, and even though I feel like becoming fluent in French, (and Gujarati for that matter), it feels good to be back in the USA where I don’t feel like I’m stupid and 98% of the people understand me.<