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Britain’s biggest export: English

Now that Britain has voted to exit the European Union, some of the remaining members are hoping to get back at the English. They want to do that by dropping English as the official language of the European Union. What, then, would the official language of Europe be? It probably would still be English.

That’s because English, for a number of reasons, remains the pervasive second language in most civilized lands. It is the biggest export of the English-speaking peoples to the rest of the world.

The majority of the schoolchildren in Russia, China and Japan, for example, learn English along with their own languages. That’s because English is the language of international trade.

It also is the official language of international aviation. Want to be an airline pilot if you are a little Norwegian kid? Get to work on your English.

It’s the language of international tourism. Do you want to attract English and American tourists? Learn to speak English.

Unfortunately, not many Americans learn enough of any foreign tongue to get them by in a foreign country they may happen to visit. I say unfortunately, because the ability to speak another’s tongue is one of the highest forms of respect that can be shown to the native speakers of that language. Americans often are seen as rude because of their lack of linguistic ability.

The best way to learn a language, I am told, is through immersion. Which is a little like being taught to swim by being rowed to the middle of a lake in a boat, thrown overboard, and then coached back to shore by others, who know how to swim, as they swim past you, yelling unintelligible instructions as you struggle to keep from drowning.

But it does work, with the right motivation. A friend of mine loved Italian opera, and had a nice collection of records, all in that language. By listening to those recordings, he found he was one day able to speak Italian.

I have often wondered whether sitting around the house watching telenovelas on Spanish-language TV while eating chips and salsa would help me learn Spanish. I may give it a try one of these months. Nothing else has helped.

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