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