Friday, 25 March 2011 00:00
Throughout the world, over 58 countries use English as the official or dominant language. Interestingly, English is not the official language of the United States. But back in 1794, the Congress, by a vote of 42 to 41, failed to pass a law calling for laws in the United States to be printed in English and German. We still do not have an official language as of this date.
The range of countries with English as the dominant language is quite amazing. English is everywhere from India to Canada and from Singapore to the Philippines. And there are more people fluent in English in China than in the United States! Throughout the world some 7 billion people use English every day.
As you examine the details around the globe, it is amazing to note that some 36 percent of France’s population is fluent in English, along with over 56 percent of Germans. Norway has the highest percentage with 91 percent fluent in English! Denmark is also one of the highest English speaking populations with some 86 percent fluent.
At one point several years ago, Japan was ready to make English the second “official” language of the country. While most students study English in school and have a grasp of English, around 7 million of the 125 million population in Japan are fluent in English.
All of this leads me to the question as to why so many people in the United States do not want to become proficient in English? It annoys me to hear on the telephone, “Push one for English.”
In addition, why should schools teach English to immigrants as the “second language”? Believe me, in today’s global economy, if you do not speak English, you will have a great deal of trouble getting ahead.
I will never forget serving on the Board of the Panama Canal Commission and trying to practice my Spanish. Panamanian executives at the Canal could always stop me and ask me to please speak in English so they could practice using the language. Another reason for the growing use of English throughout the world is the computers and the Internet. Research and communications are much easier using English. In addition, whether it be Chinese, Japanese, Korean or even Arabic characters, the English alphabet is much easier to use on a computer keyboard. Take China for example. There are some 40 thousand Chinese characters in their language – impossible to fit on a keyboard. That is why so many people in China are using English even if they are not fluent.
This piece should not be interpreted as my being negative about knowing a language other than English. Understanding a second language can be positive. It makes sense in business, travel, and can definitely make overseas trips more rewarding. But, in my judgment, the failure to learn and use English in the United States can be a fatal blow to anyone who really wants to participate in our society.