Master Your Mother Tongue (And Speak English)

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Since an early age, I have loved languages. Whilst I spoke French wherever I’d go, I was always ready to catch a glimpse my father’s conversations in Italian. And as I wandered through the city, the very beautiful and cosmopolitan Paris, I could discern the different languages spoken by people, whether it be in touristic areas or by hearing the Métro’s announcements — ‘mind the gap between the train and the platform.’ Thus, growing up in such an environment draw me to a direction from which I could see with a wider view.

Isn’t diversity such a treasure? You can have friends from Japanese or Arabic origins, colleagues who have migrated from Russia, New Zealand or Kenya, and neighbors you hear speaking Spanish, Mandarin or German. Cultures get intermingled, and while some customs remain, others slowly fade. Globalization has accelerated exchanges between the five continents, and migratory influx tend to increase as time goes by. The process thus has a heavy impact on languages and their evolution.

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It is an undeniable fact that the English language has had a strong influence on idioms from all over the world. And although I cannot foresee the future, it is most-likely not to change any time soon, and have its power increase over the next few years. As non-native English speakers, you may note that many English words have been implemented into other languages, not specifically dedicated to the intelligentsia (as for the use of Latin and Ancient Greek, centuries ago and still nowadays) or specific terminologies but in our daily lives. Languages and cultures have always worked that way. As French or Italian were languages that anyone willing to impress their peers, during the Enlightenment era, needed to learn, and as, for instance, plenty of foreign terms have been implemented into other languages, it is by no means an outrage to the ‘sacred’ language of a nation, but only a cultural enrichment.

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Yet, you may argue to what extent a language can contribute to another and discuss the limits of these intercultural exchanges within the language itself. In fact, I have personally witnessed, let’s say for the past two years, an overwhelming amount of English words being integrated to French, my mother-tongue. Here are a few examples: Facebook likes (un ‘J’aime’ sur Facebook), to go out on a date (avoir un rencard), a selfie (which has even been added to the 2015 edition of the French Dictionary Le Robert), and we could go on and on with this list. All of these words do exist in French, therefore I do not completely understand why the use of their English equivalent seems to be necessary to some people (although, I’ll be less skeptical with Facebook’ likes, as for tweets, part of a specific category of words, but which, however, used to be said in French a few years back).

I don’t believe there is anything wrong with speaking several languages and using some foreign words in certain cases (otherwise I wouldn’t be writing in English at the moment nor would I be majoring in English). Is it, however, necessary to erase words that are not as obsolete as they may seem to a few? As reports have shown, in France, the percentage of population whose spelling and vocabulary is modest tends to increase. Thus, the use of English words, in standard vocabulary, more often than what is actually needed seems harmful to the French language. I am no linguist and I will not go further with such an explanation, having done no serious research. So, let’s move on to another language, which I know more or less of, Italian.

 

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Over the past few months, I have started reading the Italian press online and noticed, to my utter amazement, that English terms were almost constantly used in headlines. Words such as killer or single are probably even more used in Italy than in France. Once again, these words do have equivalents in the Italian dictionary, they are not archaic terms (can you even imagine an idiom without a specific term for ‘killer’? Pretty idealistic, huh?). Subsequently, I believe the combination between English and other languages to be quite upsetting, sometimes turning into bizarre expressions or undermining the original meaning of a word.

 

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As learning a new language opens the mind and offers other views of the world, practicing foreign languages is an absolute benefit. Nevertheless, other languages cannot be eradicated for the sake of globalization (as some scholars daringly call ‘americanization’) and the sake of the English language. We ought to remember that cultural exchanges can, and must remain without overtaking onto other languages.

I do love English, French and Italian, which somehow are very much close to my heart, all for different reasons. They are powerful and beautiful, each being used in a certain situation. And as for any other language I do not speak, I only wish that they are preserved and that our different cultures are enriched through exchanges. As non-native English speakers, we ought to keep our mother-tongue alive, the same way as English native-speakers manage to do so well at spreading and sharing theirs.

 

 

What are you views on this topic? 

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23 thoughts on “Master Your Mother Tongue (And Speak English)

  1. I’ve always loved languages, and when I’ve read Russian press online, I too was amazed by how many of the words are carried directly over!

    To me, learning a new language always feels like I’m opening the door to another world — not many other activities give that same feel. 🙂

    Thanks for sharing. Lovely post!

      1. Nope! I studied WWII-era history and Russian history in college – so I ended up learning a few semesters’ worth of the language. Unfortunately, I’m forgetting bits as I have no one to practice with! 😦

      2. That is so awesome. I already loved you for your ballroom tomboyishness. And now this?! You’re the coolest person ever. We should be friends! And I can practice with you. I lived in Russia for a year and Lithuania for 6 months so I have a good conversational grasp of the language.

      3. Twitter, yes. @schriefern1 🙂 Insta, not so much. I don’t have a smart phone. I’m a relic from another century!! (and I’m still in my 20’s ahahaha)

  2. Really wonderful post and I agree with you completely.

    While English is currently the “international” language, you pointed out that it used to be French and Italian. What do you think about the theory that the top economic powers of the world control the language factor? Have you heard of this theory? France was the world’s economic center during the Enlightenment period.

    1. Thank you for the kind words!

      Yes, I have heard more or less of this theory. I think the question of linguistic imperialism is very interesting and at the same time in terms of practice it may turn out to be hard to counterbalance. As in today’s society there seems to be a considerable increase of esteem for economic flows at a global scale, I don’t believe that the question of linguistic imperialism is going to withdraw any time soon (and considering capitalism’s place worldwide, at least for now).

  3. German has quite a bit of English slang also…it’s called “Denglish.” Much to the chagrin of my high school teacher, when we students returned to the U.S. after an exchange we used “shoppen” instead of “einkaufen” and “chillen” (in the sense of relaxing) instead of “sich entspannen.” Of course, there are also the famous verbs “facebooken” and “twittern.”

    I agree that languages shouldn’t be trampled in the name of globalization or modernity. Perhaps a related question – what is the current state of minority languages in France? Is it still true that Breton cannot be taught in public schools?

    1. That’s a shame. Well, Breton can still be taught in public schools in Brittany. Bilingual classes are promoted in the region. And when high school students take their final exam, the Baccalaureate, they can choose to take an additional option called “Regional Language” and can choose a minority language. Although, to be honest, I doubt many students do take it.

  4. Hi Giulia,
    Very interesting post.

    The same is happening in Spanish. (English words being introduced into common parlance.) (I’m British, living in spain for 40 years now. )

    un ‘best-seller’…un’thriller’ …un ‘work-out’….un ‘top-model’ ….etc.
    Oh well! Language is a living thing and so it grows and changes.

    Regards. Marie.

    1. Thank you for reading, Marie.

      Yes, at some point we have to accept how languages evolve, I agree with you!

      Thanks for the follow! x

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