English becomes Europe's second language according to survey

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Soonthon LUPKITARO(Ph.D.)  Identity Verified
Thailand
Local time: 10:29
Member (2004)
English to Thai
+ ...
Language in my first passport Oct 6, 2010

My Thai government passport in year 1972 was written in French, but now it is in English. I understand that popularity of English is enhanced more with deeper globalization, in particular Internet communication.

Soonthon Lupkitaro


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Michael Wetzel  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 05:29
German to English
questionable numbers Oct 6, 2010

2/3 of continental Europeans can speak English?! What is the definition of "can speak" here? Maybe my experience is misleading because of almost never travelling in Scandinavia and Eastern Europe, but you'd need a very generous definition to arrive at even 1/3 of Germans, Austrians, Italians, French, or Spanish.

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Pablo Bouvier  Identity Verified
Local time: 05:29
German to Spanish
+ ...
English becomes Europe’s second language according to surveyt Oct 6, 2010

And what credibility has the survey?
There are many means to skew a survey...


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Neil Coffey  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 04:29
French to English
+ ...
French is more "precise". Oct 6, 2010

<Paxman voice>
Yeeeeees....
</Paxman voice>

Obviously, the idea that French is somehow more "precise" has little linguistic basis to it. But even supposing for a second that there was some basis to the argument, I'd be interested to know what the supposed source of "precision" is that is so inherent to the French language and not shared by, say, Spanish or Italian...

As somebody (and presumably various colleagues here are in the same position) who does have to trawl through some of the EU's publications from time to time, I'd also say they often produce a fairly gallicised version of English anyway. (And of course, English is intrinsically gallicised...)


[Edited at 2010-10-06 22:59 GMT]


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Richard Bartholomew  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 05:29
Member (2007)
German to English
Quick, which language is spoken in France? Oct 7, 2010

"French is not spoken anywhere in the world [sic] while English is now increasingly becoming a global language."

What a peculiar assertion this is. The last time I looked, French was spoken in France and France is certainly somewhere in the world.

I find this even stranger than the notion that French is more precise than English, whatever that means.


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Soonthon LUPKITARO(Ph.D.)  Identity Verified
Thailand
Local time: 10:29
Member (2004)
English to Thai
+ ...
Influence of Latin Oct 8, 2010

Most European languages (French, German, Spanish, Italian, Russian etc.) have been influenced by Latin grammars e.g. structured verb declension, gender of word classification, root vocabularies. These are mostly omitted in English. I guess that EU people are not actually familiar with moresimple English grammars.

Soonthon Lupkitaro


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Neil Coffey  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 04:29
French to English
+ ...
"Special" and "Logic"... in what sense and why does that sense matter...? Oct 8, 2010

Soonthon LUPKITARO(Ph.D.) wrote:

Most European languages (French, German, Spanish, Italian, Russian etc.) have been influenced by Latin grammars e.g. structured verb declension, gender of word classification, root vocabularies. These are mostly omitted in English


Mmmmm think I'd want to see more details to understand the argument for saying that English is less "influenced" by Latin than Russian...

Also not sure about lumping Romance languages in with Russian as being "influenced by Latin" in the same way...

But besides all that...
- linguistically, what's so special about Latin?
- what actually, objectively makes us say that, say, the Russian verb system (or the French one or the Bingbongalese one) is more "structured" -- in what sense...? and...
- ... why does that particular measure of "structured" make the language inherently more suited to being the European lingua franca (as opposed to, say, your language putting prepositions before/after their complements, distinguishing morphologically between adjectives and adverbs, having one, two or three genders, consistently marking aspect morphologically etc etc -- pick your favourite feature at random)


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Krzysztof Kajetanowicz  Identity Verified
Poland
Local time: 05:29
English to Polish
+ ...
heh Oct 8, 2010

Richard Bartholomew wrote:

"French is not spoken anywhere in the world [sic] while English is now increasingly becoming a global language."

What a peculiar assertion this is. The last time I looked, French was spoken in France and France is certainly somewhere in the world.



A bunch of African countries are somewhere in the world, too (including Cameroon, both Kongos, Niger, Senegal...). The author also might have heard of a place called Canada, as well as a fairly important European city called Brussels (and half of the country it's in).

Maybe we're giving the article more attention that it deserves, after all...

[Edited at 2010-10-08 06:16 GMT]


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Pablo Bouvier  Identity Verified
Local time: 05:29
German to Spanish
+ ...
¿Spanish as lingua franca? Oct 8, 2010

Neil Coffey wrote:

Soonthon LUPKITARO(Ph.D.) wrote:

Most European languages (French, German, Spanish, Italian, Russian etc.) have been influenced by Latin grammars e.g. structured verb declension, gender of word classification, root vocabularies. These are mostly omitted in English


Mmmmm think I'd want to see more details to understand the argument for saying that English is less "influenced" by Latin than Russian...

Also not sure about lumping Romance languages in with Russian as being "influenced by Latin" in the same way...

But besides all that...
- linguistically, what's so special about Latin?
- what actually, objectively makes us say that, say, the Russian verb system (or the French one or the Bingbongalese one) is more "structured" -- in what sense...? and...
- ... why does that particular measure of "structured" make the language inherently more suited to being the European lingua franca (as opposed to, say, your language putting prepositions before/after their complements, distinguishing morphologically between adjectives and adverbs, having one, two or three genders, consistently marking aspect morphologically etc etc -- pick your favourite feature at random)


Classic Latin has in particular that is the source of all the other latin languages. And that if it had been still alive, it would have facilitated the understanding between european peoples and avoided many misunderstandings that led even to some wars.
I do no say it, it has been said by an Egyptian literature Nobel prize. To me it is quite dubious to have English as lingua franca as there are more spanish speaking as english speaking people considering both idioms as "primary" language.

I believe the fallacy is to consider the number of people studying English or that use it as their second language. To me it makes not much sense to use a second language, if there is a majority that has a different language as their native/primary language.

By the way, I suspect that the internationally spoken and written English is quite poor. I do not know nothing about English, but I was able to realize the complexity of worship English hearing the BBC courses for univesitary peoples that were light years ahead of other courses, including those of the British Institute. At least in Spain...




[Edited at 2010-10-08 09:01 GMT]


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Neil Coffey  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 04:29
French to English
+ ...
Cultural perception and linguistic reality Oct 8, 2010

Pablo Bouvier wrote:
Classic Latin has in particular that is the source of all the other latin languages. And that if it had been still alive, it would have facilitated the understanding between european peoples and avoided many misunderstandings that led even to some wars.


I think it's maybe just worth clarifying things a little more precisely. For many centuries after Latin had evolved into significantly different varieties (early "French", "Italian" etc -- though it's important to note that naming these different "languages" is a relatively modern phenomenon), Classical Latin (which we might define, for example, as the variety of Latin used in formal speech and writing by educated native Latin speakers around the 1st century BC) continued to be used artificially as a lingua franca or, to some extent, "the variety of language used in serious writing".

Within a few centuries, the differences were enough that a number of glossaries sprang up (so that speakers could understand osbolete words such as Classical Latin "pueros" > everyday Latin "infantes"), and by the 9th century AD, the text of the Strasbourg Oaths shows us that what might have once been "Ad Dei voluntatem..." had become as different as "Pro Deo amur...". In other words, for several centuries the "classical" form of Latin was artificially maintained as a lingua franca, but the differences between this "serious written" form of language and "everyday" language even for native "Latin" speakers was so great that it would have effectively been like learning a foreign language. Or put another way, it's probably almost true to say that an Italian scientist writing in Classical Latin in the 1500s pretty much may as well have been writing in some other random foreign language of their choosing in terms of the difficulty. It's not so much that there are inherent features of Classical Latin that made it good as a lingua franca, but rather that by historical accident, people were accustomed to using it that way, because initially (and actually for a surprisingly long time), it had been "the written form" of the language they spoke-- even though in reality, what they saw as being "spoken" and "written" forms of "the same language" got to the point of being as different as, say, Dutch and English are today.

The argument about using Latin avoiding wars, misunderstandings, bubonic plagues etc isn't really an argument about features of Latin, just about having *some* random lingua franca.

Oh, and of course "Classical Latin" is then only "dead" in the sense that "the English spoken in Essex in 1237" is also "dead".


To me it is quite dubious to have English as lingua franca as there are more spanish speaking as english speaking people considering both idioms as "primary" language.

I believe the fallacy is to consider the number of people studying English or that use it as their second language. To me it makes not much sense to use a second language, if there is a majority that has a different language as their native/primary language.


Agreed -- if you take number of native speakers within Europe as a criterion, the argument for using English as a lingua franca within Europe isn't quite so compelling. I'm not sure that Spanish is necessarily a better contender than other Romance languages just on those grounds, though. (There are more speakers of Spanish in the world than other Romance languages, but not necessarily within Europe; if you extend the numbers to worldwide figures, then English probably does still outnumber Spanish, or is at least within the same kind of range of numbers of speakers.)

But of course, it's much more complicated than that really. Irrespective of overall proficiency in the given languages, what's probably more relevant are questions such as how proficient speakers are in a given language for the *specific* purposes of EU administration (being able to understand laws, policies etc), and arguably how widely used that language is outside of the EU as well (if we want to trade with China, then to some extent they need to be able to understand our laws and workings of the EU as well).


[Edited at 2010-10-08 16:41 GMT]


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Kaspars Melkis  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 04:29
English to Latvian
+ ...
No objections to English Oct 8, 2010

The article only says that 66% want to be English speakers, not that they are necessarily speaking good English.

At least in Baltic region and I believe also in Scandinavia, English is definitely the preferred language for EU-wide communication. German and French is also somewhat popular but is considered of more local character and required only when dealing with respective countries. The use of Spanish is rare.


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Alf Ivar Tronsmo  Identity Verified
Norway
Local time: 05:29
English to Norwegian
Based on the number of people speaking the languages... Oct 9, 2010

According to my encyclopedia there are 402 000 000 people in the world having English as their mother language.
As for French the number is 80 000 000.
German is spoken by about 94 000 000 people.

Taking into account that a mayority of international websites, magazines, documents and so on is written in English, I find the content of this article very obvious.


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Neil Coffey  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 04:29
French to English
+ ...
Within the right ballpark Oct 9, 2010

Alf Ivar Tronsmo wrote:

According to my encyclopedia there are 402 000 000 people in the world having English as their mother language.
As for French the number is 80 000 000.
German is spoken by about 94 000 000 people.

Taking into account that a mayority of international websites, magazines, documents and so on is written in English, I find the content of this article very obvious.


As the number of native speakers, they seem within the right ballpark (i.e. various other sources give figures roughly within these ranges).

The figures for English and French sound as though they might be slightly out of date, but we're not talking orders of magnitude. Maybe it might turn out for English it's closer to half a billion or a bit more, and French closer to 100 million or 150 million depending on your definition of "native speaker" (and "French").

But remember the difficulties involved with these kind of figures: they're based on combining information from different surveys/census information conducted probably in different years, certainly under different conditions, with different wording and inherent definitions. What was the definition of "native speaker" in each case, and how consistent were those definitions (assuming there even was a definition-- maybe "native speaker of X" was even inferred from "not speaking another indigenous language"...)?


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Daniel García
English to Spanish
+ ...
questionable numbers Oct 9, 2010

Michael Wetzel wrote:

2/3 of continental Europeans can speak English?! What is the definition of "can speak" here? Maybe my experience is misleading because of almost never travelling in Scandinavia and Eastern Europe, but you'd need a very generous definition to arrive at even 1/3 of Germans, Austrians, Italians, French, or Spanish.


The article is indeed misleading (or grossly misterpreting the data).

Checking the actual data from Eurostat reveals a different story:

What the newspaper says:


English has become Europe's second language of choice with two thirds of people in the continent able to speak it, according to a survey.


What Eurostat actually says:

In the EU in 2007, when adults aged 25 to 64 were asked to assess their level of proficiency4 in their best known foreign language, only 13% declared themselves as being proficient, 16% as being good, 30% as having a fair or basic knowledge and 38% as having no knowledge of a foreign language.


http://epp.eurostat.ec.europa.eu/cache/ITY_PUBLIC/3-24092010-AP/EN/3-24092010-AP-EN.PDF

13+16+30 = 59% of adults declared that they have at least a basic knowledge of a foreign language.

For instance, 55% of the population in Latvia consider themselves proficient in a foreign language. I haven't seen the detailed data but I am sure a large proportion of these are Latvians or Russians who are proficient in Russian and Latvian as foreign languages.

Something I find interesting is that the sentences included in the article as direct quotes from the report are nowhere to be found on Eurostat's web site. I wonder from where they took them. :?

In Eurostats report there is another piece of information which for some reason does not seem to be as interesting for the British press:

"More than half (51%) of students in upper secondary education in the United Kingdom did not study any foreign language, followed by Ireland (19%)."

Daniel


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