Here’s a joke which I have heard before, but which I heard again the other day, told by one foreign student to another one:
What do you call someone who speaks three languages? Trilingual.
What do you call someone who speaks two languages? Bilingual.
What do you call someone who speaks one language? British!
and it’s true that we British are very bad at learning to speak foreign languages. When we go abroad we tend to just speak louder at people and then get annoyed when they don’t understand our English! I read a very interesting article recently discussing the growth of English around the world and a lot of foreigners were quoted as saying that everyone in a multinational company could communicate quite happily with each other through English – but communication failed miserably with the British. That’s because all the non-native English speakers used standard English and chatted quite comfortably together but then the British came along speaking their idiomatic English and nobody knew what they were talking about. So we British will have to learn to change our language after all!
I am always on the look out for lectures in English on interesting subjects with transcripts to go with them so that you can listen and read what they are saying when you don’t understand. I’ve come across another one of these, this time from ABC Radio National in Australia. This particular series of lectures is called the ‘Alfred Deakin Innovation Lectures’. The fifth lecture is about cross-cultural differences, a concept which is closely linked to language learning. Enjoy this lectures series, and especially the final lecture here.