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Monday 11 June 2012

Language Ignorance Is Not A Merit Badge

It was once said of the great and much loved Formula 1 boss Ken Tyrrell that he spoke a range of languages fluently, except that when it came to any language other than English, his knowledge extended only to speaking English more slowly and a lot more loudly. Ken got away with it because he was part of a well organised circus and a sound bloke to boot. But he wasn’t the only Brit who did it.

This has been underscored by golfer Colin Montgomerie, whose views on the inability of the British to learn others’ languages have been picked up by the Mail in a rare display of the Dacre press highlighting a failure across the whole education system. Montgomerie is spot on: I bother to learn a few words of any foreign language, and find myself the one-eyed man in the land of the blind.

But there are those who actually use a knowledge of foreign languages as a means to denigrate others, and to see a superb example of this celebration of ignorance one need look no further than the Super Soaraway Currant Bun, where Voice Of The People Trevor Kavanagh has gone into EU bashing mode, as he pretends that those dastardly Eurocrats are “throttling our economy”.

Nobody wins anything when they can't speak the language, thanks

In this, of course, he is merely doing his obedient duty as one of Rupe’s troops, and parroting the line already taken by the Rt Hon Gideon George Oliver Osborne, heir to the Seventeenth Baronet, who has, as I noted yesterday, claimed that the UK’s poor economic performance is mainly down to a big European boy who did it and ran away. Kavanagh’s target, though, is Corporal Clegg.

Following the customary pop at “unelected, unaccountable bureaucrats” in “Brussels” – as opposed to those in the UK who are, er, not elected either, Kavanagh lambasts Clegg as a “former EU official and fluent Dutch, German and Spanish speaker ... utterly at home in Brussels”. So there you have it, Sun readers, speaking your Mum’s and your wife’s first language is A Very Bad Thing.

And speaking German as well is clearly beyond the pale. All that needs to be done to sew up his case is for Trev to throw in more “Eurocrats”, frighten the readers with “arrogant lunacy of an unelected elite”, and he’s done. Being able to talk foreign is thus demonised and bracketed with things that the readers are meant to hate. And so many more young people will be put off learning them.

Which, on a personal level, will close off decades of sound employment prospects, and for so many in the UK will condemn them to speaking English very slowly and very loudly. Or they will, when abroad, gravitate to those Anglophone ghettos in parts of southern Spain where they can feel comfortable with that fateful decision to believe the Murdoch press and treat ignorance as a merit badge.

With friends like the Murdoch press, nobody is in any need of enemies.

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