Friday, March 24, 2006

Common Understanding

I am a big fan of learning foreign languages. I think it is great that the Government wants to teach languages to pupils at a young age; I hate travelling to foreign countries where I can't speak the language, because I feel that it is rude to have to rely on other people accommodating you in their home.

Nevertheless, when I read about the antics of Jacques Chirac this morning, I must say I was astounded. M Chirac should probably take note of the fact that Siemens and many other German businesses, for example, now have their official boardroom language as English, because it is up to 30% easier to express complicated ideas than in German. Or, for example, the fact that the European Bridge Federation has decreed the only language that should be spoken at the table in international competition is English unless by prior agreement of the two teams playing.

If I was speaking to an assembled group of French businessmen, I would do my best to address them in French. If I was speaking to an assembled group of German businessmen, I would do my best to address them in German. If I was addressing a group of international businessmen, I would use English - although I would probably endeavour to throw in a few foreign phrases as a sign of goodwill.

It is all a matter of courtesy. If you have the ability to speak in a foreign language, then when in the company of those foreigners, you should use it. There is no point in putting up unnecessary barriers to understanding to make a jingoistic point. Yes, Britain should be more proactive in encouraging the learning of foreign languages, but just because our French isn't very good does not mean the French should ignore English. Otherwise we risk putting up the very barriers the EU is supposed to bring down.

There is one consolation, though. If M Chirac continues with his stubborn French crusade, it will only lead to him becoming more and more isolated.

(Hat tip: Trust People)