Monday, July 03, 2006

Parlez-vous fran├žais? Or anything?

My daughter, K---, has become a good reader. And she has discovered that you can change the settings on a DVD movie so that it becomes subtitled. Of course, she doesn't read any languages other than English, so she likes to put on English subtitles with some other spoken language.

She has been watching The Sound of Music lately, with the audio in French. I actually have never watched a dubbed version of this movie, and it's fascinating to hear how things are translated. And the songs are sometimes in French and sometimes in English. Anyway, she has been doing a running translation for her little sister, S----, reading the subtitles for her. I imagine that this makes a movie that she's already seen more interesting. What I like is that she's being exposed to the sounds and cadences of some language other than English.

It's a funny thing that Americans are so insular when it comes to language. I've never actually seen statistics on the number of Americans (not counting first-generation immigrants) who speak some other language with any degree of fluency. But, I bet that the numbers would be dismal when compared to other industrialized countries. I've met a lot of people from other countries, and most them speak English as a second language.

Why does this matter at all? I think that it puts Americans at a disadvantage with regard to interacting with the world outside of our borders. Furthermore, it allows Americans to ignore or disregard much of what is going on in the world. Ask a group of Americans what is happening in Sudan--the vast majority would not have the slightest idea, I wager.

I could go on and on about it. Many others have commented on it. I don't know what the solution might be. I wonder though, does the American indifference to world events come because of the lack of languages? Or, does the lack of languages spring from the indifference?

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