LANGUAGES SEE-SAW: FRENCH UP, ENGLISH DOWN…

While beginning his State of the Union address in Florence (Italy) last week, President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker, told those in attendance that he was hesitating between which language to use — English or French. “(However) I made my choice. I will express myself in French because slowly but surely English is losing its importance in Europe,” said Mr. Juncker.  His words were received by laughter and applause. Even though the President said them half-jokingly – as a usual kick-off  to establish an emotional link with the audience, the words made headlines in many media across the world (two other reasons for Mr. Juncker’s joke were, probably, the coming presidential elections in France and a recent war of words with Theresa May, when the British Premier promised Juncker that during the Brexit talks she will be a “bloody difficult woman” to deal with).

I don’t think that things will be that ill-fated for English. At least Malta and the Republic of Ireland, whose official language is English, remain EU members. But many a true word is spoken in jest: in view of the coming Brexit and the likely U.S.A. self-isolationism, the economically strong Germany and the linguistically narrow-minded France will dominate in the EU, which may entail a number of consequences, including linguistic ones. The re-shaping of the EU may generate a ripple effect that will impact the demand for English in Europe. I already know quite a number of young people here in Kyiv, who, having a decent command of English, dedicate more and more time to learning German, because they hope to link to better education and jobs through that language.

The change of the language fashion may sound the alarm for teachers of English as a Foreign Language: they may find themselves “not  required.” My advice for them would be to become “Jacks of a few trades” (while remaining masters of each trade). Why not add the today’s key-word “multitasking” to one’s teaching armory and start learning one more language (German, French or Spanish) – dedicating to it one or two hours daily? Polyglot Juncker, who fluently speaks a few European languages (including Luxembourgish), is an example to look up to.

Incidentally, as any living organism, a language may go through its own ups and downs. For one, on the territory of post-war Ukraine, English was practically non-existent, but German was comparatively popular. In the village where I grew, even uneducated peasants could exchange some German phrases (the result of a two-year German occupation). English started spreading more in the 1960s in the aftermath of Khrushchev’s “thaw”, remaining, however, rather exotic. It exploded in the 1990s after the collapse of the USSR and with the market economy introduced. In the European Union, French yielded to English in the early 2000, when a group of East European countries became members or the EU.

What follows next? Let’s live and see. And learn languages.

P.S. To wrap up, here’s a link to a you-tubed nursery rhyme which is exploited for the title of this blog:

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