English: The Globalized Language – by Molly Enich. The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy, at NorthStarReports.org and facebook.com/NorthStarReports

English: The Globalized Language – by Molly Enich. The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy, at NorthStarReports.org and facebook.com/NorthStarReports

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[Farewell sign in Montenegro translated to English]

This past May, my family and I traveled the Mediterranean on a cruise for three weeks. We explored six countries, including Greece, Montenegro, Spain, Gibraltar, Italy, and France. We would hop off the ship and find ourselves immersed in a completely different culture, language, and place than we were the previous day. Through exploring so many cities and cultures in just three weeks, I started to notice the differences amongst multiple countries and compare them to American culture.

What I seemed to pick up and make note of was the language being spoken. My family and I could be eating lunch at a small café in Montenegro, and the waiters would be speaking English. It was so surprising that no matter where we were, no matter how big or small the city was, everyone spoke some English. I was never handed a menu that didn’t have English translations under the nation’s official language. Through my whole three-week vacation, I never encountered a time when I couldn’t see or hear English. Sometimes, I didn’t even feel like I was out of the US because English seemed to be everywhere I looked.

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[A sign in a Greek park that was translated to English]

I especially noticed that English seemed to be the common language for tourists in Greece. The Greek language has few characters that resemble letters found in English or European languages. Therefore, all road signs and monument markings were translated to English. What was shocking is that they weren’t translated to Italian or another language within close proximity to Greece. It was all in English.

English is also commonly spoken in Greece. While walking down the street in Athens, I heard a Chinese woman ask a local for directions in English. This really opened my eyes and allowed me to see how many people in this world are bilingual or even greater. Tour guides we had in the Vatican spoke a minimum of three languages, and locals would switch from speaking Italian to English mid sentence. While in Europe, I felt as if my three years of high school Spanish were simply inadequate and pretty much embarrassing. Looking at most countries in the world, they are taught multiple languages from a young age, while in America, the majority of us just know a few Spanish, French, or German words from high school classes. The rest of the world seems to know that Americans can’t speak many other languages so we were often talked about right in front of our faces without having a clue what was said. In one case, we were standing in an elevator and two German women were snickering and talking about mine and my sister’s outfit. The only way we could tell they were talking about us was because they were foreword enough to point at us and stare while laughing. It was really embarrassing that we had no idea what they were saying and that they could talk freely about us while we didn’t have a clue.

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[Even though McDonald’s is an American restaurant, I still expected the menu to be written in the local language instead of English]

In some ways, I felt inferior on my vacation to Europe. I couldn’t understand what people were saying as they walked by, and the only thing I could say is “hello” or “thank you” in the local language. It was strange to me that even though I was a tourist coming to their homeland to experience their culture and language, locals had to conform to the English language and American culture. I felt that if I could speak the local language, I would be respected. I believe that locals would think much more highly of tourists if they took the time to learn about the local culture instead of them having to change to fit the lifestyle of tourists.

Please contact Professor Liang if you wish to write for The North Star Reports — HLIANG (at) css.edu

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The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy (http://NorthStarReports.org) is a student edited and student authored open access publication centered around the themes of global and historical connections. Our abiding philosophy is that those of us who are fortunate enough to receive an education and to travel our planet are ethically bound to share our knowledge with those who cannot afford to do so. Therefore, creating virtual and actual communities of learning between college and K-12 classes are integral to our mission. In three years we have published over 250 articles covering all habitable continents and a variety of topics ranging from history and politics, food and popular culture, to global inequities to complex identities. These articles are read by K-12 and college students. Our student editors and writers come from all parts of the campus, from Nursing to Biology, Physical Therapy to Business, and remarkably, many of our student editors and writers have long graduated from college. We also have writers and editors from other colleges and universities. In addition to our main site, we also curate a Facebook page dedicated to annotated news articles selected by our student editors (http://www.facebook.com/NorthStarReports). This is done by an all volunteer staff. We have a frugal cash budget, and we donate much of our time and talent to this project. The North Star Reports is sponsored and published by Professor Hong-Ming Liang, NSR Student Editors and Writers, The Department of History and Politics of The College of St. Scholastica, and the scholarly Middle Ground Journal. For a brief summary, please see the American Historical Association’s Perspectives on History, at: http://www.historians.org/perspectives/issues/2013/1305/Opening-The-Middle-Ground-Journal.cfm

Hong-Ming Liang, Ph.D., Editor-in-Chief and Publisher, The North Star Reports; Chief Editor, The Middle Ground Journal; Associate Professor of History and Politics, The College of St. Scholastica. Kathryn Marquis Hirsch, Managing Editor, The North Star Reports.

(c) 2012-present The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy http://NorthStarReports.org ISSN: 2377-908X The NSR is sponsored and published by Professor Hong-Ming Liang, NSR Student Editors and Writers, with generous support from The Department of History and Politics of The College of St. Scholastica, and the scholarly Middle Ground Journal. See Masthead for our not-for-profit educational open- access policy. K-12 teachers, if you are using these reports for your classes, please contact editor-in-chief Professor Liang at HLIANG (at) css.edu

24 Comments

Filed under Molly Enich, North Star Student Editors, Professor Hong-Ming Liang

24 responses to “English: The Globalized Language – by Molly Enich. The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy, at NorthStarReports.org and facebook.com/NorthStarReports

  1. Pingback: English: The Globalized Language – by Molly Enich. The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy, at NorthStarReports.org and facebook.com/NorthStarReports | Professor Liang 梁弘明教授

  2. Pingback: English: The Globalized Language – by Molly Enich. The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy, at NorthStarReports.org and facebook.com/NorthStarReports | The Middle Ground Journal

  3. Sarah Devine

    After traveling and realizing that knowing a second language could be very beneficial Studies have shown the benefits (mentally and socially) of knowing more than one language, but often having experiencing of not knowing what people are saying is more convincing to learn another language. After this experience will you be learning a second language? and if not, why?

  4. Cassie Mahlberg

    As wonderful as it is to be given the opportunity to travel the world, there are definitely some downsides in doing so on a guided tour. It is indeed common to find a lot of English in European tourist destinations as they cater to the visitors- the more comfortable they are, the more money they will spend. It is depressing that so many destinations are converting to English in hopes of attracting more tourists as it runs the risk of destroying the native culture. As difficult as it can be to navigate in a culture where the language spoken is not one’s own, it is so much more rewarding to be fully immersed, to learn and experience the new place and appreciate it as the native people do.
    I am surprised that there was as much English spoken as you say though, because in many small cities in Europe, the native people have a hatred of the English language and will not use it, no matter what they could “benefit” from it.
    On another note, the Germans laughing about your clothing does not actually surprise me. It is somewhat common for European people to be able to pick out Americans based on their clothing and overall look. They do not always make fun of Americans, but they will often use their prejudice to decide which language to speak in front of you.
    This was a wonderful article and it makes me excited to start seeing the world again.

  5. Ellery Bruns

    In high school, many of the foreign exchange students could speak English better that most Americans. I asked a friend–who was also an exchange student–what year in school she started learning English, and she said she had an English language class since elementary school. I wish American Schools would teach languages earlier on in school. Why can’t we start earlier? I have noticed that a lot of Americans expect other countries to learn English and excel, but do not expect the same of themselves when visiting other countries. Why is that?

  6. Abigail DeLisle

    Having traveled abroad, I can relate to similar situations. Most recently, I traveled to Costa Rica and Nicaragua and I experienced a sense of (undeserved) superiority given to me and my fellow American travelers by the locals of small towns and communities; I assume most of this can be attributed to the political, social, and economic power of the US, but those influences stem to the use of English on a global scale. While in the Philippines, I also experienced the glorification of stereotypical Western ideals, including the use of English. Travelers from around the world choose to speak English in foreign destinations rather than learning the native language.
    This, as mentioned in a previous comment, has negative impacts on the culture and language of the country, community, and people of that region. Learning a second language in our country is noted as difficult, inconvenient, and unnecessary while in other countries, learning a different language is normal and necessary. As an English speaker, I recognize the privilege the our language carries on many different levels.

  7. Diana Mena

    I have had the great opportunity to travel to different places around the world in my life and I would defiantly agree, it seems like the United States is one of the only countries that doesn’t put an emphasis on languages. The amazing thing is that even third world countries that are in poverty have a huge emphasis on learning different languages- for example Guatemala has 23 NATIONAL languages, that is just amazing. I think that the United States has an embedded oppressed system that plays into all of this, I mean the main language of this country (objibwa) is seen as ‘rare’ or not common. Not only is that wrong its very sad as well. Another thing that is interesting is that it is proven that the more languages a person learns when they are young the better they are academically. Overall if you look at the United States there isn’t “one” main culture so how can we have a main language?

  8. Megan Gonrowski

    Although I have never traveled abroad, I am still aware of the influence that U.S language and culture have on other parts of the world. I believe the main reason that Americans do not learn another language from a young age is because we are not in everyday contact with people who exclusively speak a different language. The size and isolation of the U.S. keeps the public from believing that we need to know another language besides English. Yes, I wish that schools taught us from a young age how to speak at least one other language, but the majority of them don’t. I have noticed more immersion schools popping up and this may be the beginning of more diversity in what we consider U.S. culture. I believe that if the U.S. keeps growing and becoming more diverse then eventually there will be a big enough reason for people to need to start learning another language. Until then we may just be stuck listening to conversations about us in a language we don’t understand.

  9. Meghan Lozinski

    I also found that travelling to a country with another language you don’t know is eye opening. Before last summer I had never really been in a situation where I didn’t know the language. Last summer I spent a weekend in a small, Northern Spanish city. Very few people here spoke English and I was left acting out and pointing out everything I needed or wanted. I felt almost guilty for wanting to travel there when I knew so little of the language and the culture, like I was expecting everyone else to accommodate me (even though that wasn’t really the case). On the other hand though, I did notice how kind almost everyone was in helping me find what I needed even though we spoke two different languages and came from two different cultures.

  10. Dylan Brovick

    I have never traveled abroad so I found this very interesting. In my head I would expect the countries to use there own language for almost everything like menus, and street signs, like we do here in the U.S.. Maybe the reason we are behind in speaking more languages is because we don’t incorporate other countries languages into our everyday life to make it easier for tourists. The most shocking thing to me is that Molly says it feels like she wasn’t outside of the United States because of how often english was spoken. If I went to Europe today my main worry would be trying to understand what people are saying and what signs around me say. Knowing that english is spoken by many over seas comes as a surprise to me, but also a relief sort of in that now if I ever do go to Europe I may not be as lost as I think I would be.

  11. Michaela Campbell

    I absolutely loved the ending sentence(s) to this article. I agree that if, prior to traveling outside the U.S., we took some time aside to really look at the language of the nation we’re visiting, read up on important aspects of the culture, etc., then we may begin to open a door to which American tourists aren’t seem as being completely ethnocentric. It is amazing how the locals of a foreign country sort of cater to Americans in regard to our language, and culture. I experienced something similar while abroad to Denmark this past summer, and it is amazing how many people in other nations know what Americans typically ‘like’, how we ‘talk’, and half the time they know we’re an American before we even open our mouths due to the way we dress, walk, etc. If we were prepared to welcome the many types of cultures that America is made up of like the foreign nations we travel to do, then our country may begin to understand how to eliminate the many racial/ethnic tensions that we currently have.

  12. It is always very interesting to me when I hear this about the world. I have only traveled to Canada, Ireland, and England where English is already the national language. Even in Ireland they have English as an official language and use it more often, or at least along side, their native language of Irish.

    It makes me very sad that for some reason world languages are not taken as seriously in the USA as they are in other countries. I almost feel cheated by our educational system for not giving us the opportunity to learn a language until our brains have developed past the best stage for learning such a subject. High School kids are too old to retain, absorb, and become fluent in a language in the amount of time a young child would be able to. By the age of two or three one could say they are fluent in English and learn the language more in depth throughout elementary school. Why does the American educational system not implement foreign language learning in elementary school as other countries do? Simply because English will be available for English speakers does not mean we should rely on our ignorance of a new culture to enjoy it fully.

  13. Sofia Pineda

    I think that this is a great example of how globalization works. The amount of influence and power the United States (I know this is not the only English speaking nation) has around the world can be seen even in the smaller things, like translations in a restaurant’s menu. Countries need to adapt in order to survive or at least if they want to keep being a hot spot for tourists. However, is this truly fair? Shouldn’t tourists have to learn basic words (please /thank you) before going into a foreign nation? Shouldn’t tourists be the ones that have to adapt ? How much of a country or culture are they learning if they are not fully immersed?

  14. It was really surprising to learn that other countries conform to the standard of English and assimilate to American culture in their own country. One would think that when traveling to another country, one would have to learn the language and culture to fit in with the locals. I guess anywhere an American goes that English and American culture will be the norm. It is true that other people in different countries know more than one language while Americans know only one, it’s embarrassing sometimes to be monolingual. Maybe it is time for American society to start progressing and stop having everyone else live by American standards.

  15. Hannah Schaaf

    I really enjoyed reading this article and the perspective that it gives. As someone who’s pretty much only traveled in the Untied States it’s interesting to hear about how much of our culture has been accepted/adopted by other cultures around the world. Sometimes when places put so much effort into making things “Americanized” or catered to a specific type of people, it can be a bit sad, because it seems like they’re giving up pieces of their culture, to appease another. Yet on the other hand, English is a very common language so even in places where they have things written in it’s native language, it’s also helpful to have the translations for people who know English, but aren’t familiar with whatever language is being spoken around them. I also think that it’s a shame that in many school’s in the Untied States, different languages aren’t being taught to students sooner. Not everyone in the world speaks English, so it doesn’t make much sense that we don’t learn about multiple different languages in school. It can feel sometimes that the only way to be exposed to another language or culture is to actively seek it out, because in America we typically only see our culture and it’s values and ideals, in both media and in day to day life.

  16. Mary Tran

    I think the American culture has definitely had an impact on many places in the world. I definitely saw bits and pieces of this during my stay in Vietnam a few summers ago. In Vietnam, the youth are the ones who are learning English and are so fascinated by the American culture and language. I’ve notice that through my family there, as they often times ask me to help them with their English and ask about American culture. It’s gotten to the point where the youth are becoming fluent in the language and the American culture has impacted very big cities for tourists. After reading this article, I agree with you, Molly, as there isn’t much emphasis here in the United States to learn other languages. In the U.S., we’re commonly exposed to foreign languages when we’re in high school, whereas other students around the world are learning different languages at a very young age. Do you think it’d be a good idea for the United States to have foreign languages classes in elementary school, so we’re exposed and learning new languages at a young age? Overall, thank you for the great article!

  17. Hannah Mary Schaaf

    This is my second time trying to comment on here, so if it ends up that there’s two of them, that’s why. Anyway, I enjoyed the preceptive that this article gave. While I haven’t traveled much outside of the United States, I think it’s interesting to see how the English language as been accepted/adopted by other cultures too. We live in a culture where the ideals, and values that we have established, reign supreme. I’ve found that if I wanted to get information about other cultures I’ve had to actively seek it out. Sometimes when traveling, you’ll see things that are geared towards a different culture, which can be sad because it feels like they’re giving up a little be of their culture to appease others. On the other hand, I think since English is one of the most common languages, I think that it’s helpful to have things translated into English. I also agree that schools should start to teach more languages to children at a younger age. It’s, for lack of a better term, dumb, just to focus on the English language, instead of teaching kids the basics of other languages.

  18. Andrew Bailey

    Molly, I really enjoyed your article and you are spot on in your analysis of how other countries conform to the english language. I have traveled to Canada multiple times and when I enter the province of Quebec and go to any restaurant, the servers speak both French and English. Granted, the country of Canada does have many English speaking citizens, most of their citizens speak both languages. I grew up along the Canadian border in a small town called Fort Kent, Maine (and I moved to Appleton, WI when I was 14). Across the border of Fort Kent is the Canadian province New Brunswick, so many citizens of Claire, New Brunswick and Fort Kent, ME speak both French and English. My grandmothers both speak fluent French and they spoke some French to me when I was younger, but unfortunately I cannot speak if fluently. I certainly think that U.S. citizens should know at least two languages fluently—which would enhance our cultural experience when traveling abroad and slowly gain back respect for our nation’s lack of language proficiency.

  19. Thomas Landgren

    I really enjoyed this article because this is something that we seem to let drift away and not bring back up until we experience it again. I think that it is amazing how prominent the English language is, but i feel like this is the reason most Americans don’t think that they need to be bilingual. A majority of Americans feel that English will soon be the only language so why bother with learning another one, which is just arrogant. Most countries have their students learn multiple languages in their education systems, the US does do the same thing yet we see that most kids stop learning the language after 2-5 years. Americans are mostly learning a new language in high school which makes it a lot harder because most of the students in other cultures start learning a new language from a very young age. I feel that it is time for the US department of education to start pushing the learning of a second language from a young age and they also need to broaden the types of languages students can learn. Great Article, and thanks for sharing your experience!

  20. Emily Hanson

    I’ve spend a decent amount of time abroad and in Europe. I complete agree with your stance on feeling like you’d be better accepted had you been able to speak their language. I feel as though, as Americans, we’re viewed as entitled and we expect everyone to be able to speak our language. I feel it’s very important for us as a nation to take the steps to up our educational system and have higher language requirements. You’re article is very enlightening and something that I feel more people need to be aware of.

  21. Breena Alfredson

    This is a thinking point I often have when I see things written in multiple languages in places. I think that you do make a good point that locals would respect tourist more if they were not ignorant to their language and culture when they visited. I imagined myself accommodating people from all over the world in this sort of way and I thought I might treat people with the same conduct whether they had made an attempt to be aware of my culture or not. This is not to say that tourist shouldn’t at least try to at least have some cultural competency, just to avoid looking totally foolish. I think it is very important to think about the fact that English is so widely spoken/used, it speaks volumes about pervasive westernization.

  22. Kalley Friederichs

    Molly, it sounds like you had an amazing trip! I have also been to a few other countries and was surprised, by the amount of people that spoke English. I think that often as American’s we almost expect others to be able to communicate with us in English so it does not push us to learn additional languages. I have a family friend who lives in Denmark and he knows six languages, including his native language! Some of these languages were those of other countries bordering or near Denmark and others were languages used in countries half way across the world.

  23. Emily Bugni

    It is a relief to hear that people speak English in Spain and not only Spanish. I am planning to go there next year to visit my boyfriend’s family and have been very worried about being in an unfamiliar place with an unfamiliar language. I do not speak spanish and my boyfriend says that his family speaks mostly spanish but they know decent English. It is interesting that English is considered one of the most difficult languages to learn because of all of the rules, but it is spoken in many countries. I wonder why English is so universal. Is it because these countries are highly toured?
    Reading this article made me excited to Spain and even more relieved!

  24. Sarah Plankers

    Thanks for sharing your experience, the vastness of the English language is such an interesting subject to me. As I have traveled to various countries I have experienced some similar feelings about how common and well-known the English language is throughout the world. I think it’s normal to feel embarrassed or awkward when someone you don’t expect to know so much about your culture and language actually knows a lot about it. Language is such a beautiful and complex part of humanity, and I think it has the power to connect humans to one another as well as separate them due to miscommunication. I appreciate that you took the effort to use the words and phrases of the countries that you visited, showing openness is one of the first steps to a peaceful coexistence.

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