Speaking in tongues

English speakers are notoriously bad at speaking any other languages. When travelling, we tend to treat anyone’s inability to understand what we are saying as a form of deafness, so we just speak English very LOUDLY.

I’ve even come across an American variant of this, which involves the assumption that anything said in English will be understood just as long as you don’t use any contractions: so saying “I will not” will get you understood where “I won’t” won’t.

I’ve just (accidentally) discovered a BBC site that could singlehandedly end the international muteness of the English speaker.

It is wonderful. It covers a dozen languages well enough to take you quickly to a reasonable level of practical fluency. It also gives you key phrases for 36 other languages. It is entertaining and easy to use.

More BBC website genius. I stand in awe of the BBC for producing this. It’s free. It’s as useful as most commercial courses and probably a good bit more effective than any language lessons most people had in school. (If they had language lessons… I believe these are becoming the educational equivalent of an endangered species. like any non-utilitarian subject in British universities, now I come to think of it.)

Wouldn’t this be a good resource for schools? Imagine if English-speaking people left school with a useful smattering of a dozen languages rather than our present incapacity to even say “Hola!” on Spanish holidays.

As an aside, the print Guardian gave out little booklets with a few phrases in the world’s fastest-growing languages. No rival to the BBC’s mastery in the area but they did offer a few unique joys, such as the gestures. These were illustrated with drawings that made you think of the non-existent cartoon “Family Guy Does Russian.”