Imagine 20 years from now. English is the universal language. Travelling to Europe, Asia, Africa, South America is a piece of cake. English is spoken everywhere. By everyone. No more talking with your hands or having to point at objects to make yourself understood. No need to carry a pocket dictionary. No more fumbling around with your smart-phone translation apps. In all, communication is much easier. We all have the same lifestyle, the same culture. We listen to the same music, read the same books… But wait. Doesn’t this sound a little, well, boring?
If we all spoke English, we never would have discovered international sensations such as French singer Jacques Brel, the Three Tenors (Spanish singers Placido Domingo and José Carreras and the late Luciano Pavarotti). Or how about film stars Marion Cotillard, Sophia Loren, Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem to name a few? This year the French hit movie The Untouchables has been selected to compete for Best Foreign Language Movie for the 85th Academy Awards. Worst of all, the famous Gangnam Style of the South Korean rapper PSY would not exist. Well, does one universal language still sound appealing to you? If so, keep reading on!
Let’s consider the human brain. People exposed to more than one language should consider themselves lucky. New studies show that speaking two languages protects against Alzheimer’s disease by forcing the brain to multi-task. Studies also show that bilingual people are better able to stay focused and that it enhances their mental abilities. The more languages you speak the better. Those who learn at least two other languages aren’t likely to develop cognitive problems. Even babies show little or no trouble learning two languages at once. It’s easier to learn a new language when you are young. Babies and young infants can pick up new words and sounds effortlessly during the critical period of the cortex development. After age one it gets more difficult, but it is still much easier for children to learn new words.
Languages preserve cultures. Take notice that many endangered languages with oral cultures, stories, songs passed on to younger generations may not have any written forms. We would not only lose cultural wealth but also important ancestral knowledge if we all only spoke English. Languages are the key to identity. Those populations who do not at present speak English natively would lose their singularity. Different languages promote diversity, that’s what makes life so exotic sometimes.
Presently, there are 7,000 languages spoken in the world. If we only spoke English, 6,999 cultures would be at risk of extinction. At a rate of losing one language every two weeks, it would take about five hundred years for only one language to remain. Some languages such as Spanish or Mandarin, the two most spoken languages today, would become dead languages. A dead language is a language no longer learned as a native language; some are topics of study because of their cultural, linguistic or social importance. The most famous are Latin and ancient Greek but there are many more.
So, dear reader, are you ready to live in an exclusively English speaking world? Does it still seem attractive? In my opinion, I think we should all help to preserve the languages. Each and every one of them is special.