When one travels abroad, it is amazing how many people can understand basic English. It is also amusing how badly some things are translated into English. I expect the same happens when English is translated into another language – meanings get distorted. This often leads to misunderstandings.
As a country, we are quite good at encouraging people to come and visit us to see the sights and sounds. But, one thing I have noticed in my travels around the UK, is the lack of language skills of staff in hotels, restaurants, shops and tourist destinations who can speak another language.
We need to find a way, whereby there is always at least one member of staff who can speak one of the main languages used by tourists. This would include French, German, Spanish, Arabic, Mandarin, Russian, Hindi and Swahili. Most foreigners will know one of these languages, wherever they come from. For example, most tourists from South America speak Spanish. Even those who speak Portuguese (those from Brazil) will understand Spanish to a certain extent.
Maybe there should be a multi-pronged approach. All schools should teach at least one language, with a focus on conversational skills. Each council should be given money by the Government for their tourism budget to run conversational skill courses in at least three languages according to the highest number of foreign tourists that visit. Each employer should give time off to its staff to attend these classes, funding their attendance. Staff would need to agree to go on regular refresher courses to keep their skills up to date. Maybe, a financial incentive is given to attend these courses. It is also important that senior staff also attend these courses, to show leadership and how serious this matter is taken.
By recognising the importance of learning another language, will mean that there can be an increase in the number of different ways one can increase tourists and also in our dealings in business we will be on a level playing field.
Languages are pretty confusing. There are rules, but plenty of exceptions. Some words’ meanings depend on the tone they are said. Others have multiple meanings. Each one is not very precise and often has alternatives. This often leads to misunderstandings, confusion and sometimes even wars. They can lead to ‘verbal garbage’ or bureaucratic ‘diarrhoea’! And then there is the problem of the changing of their meanings often during one’s lifetime. Of course, with the ever increasing introduction of new ways of doing things or new objects, there are the constant flow of new words. And, finally, there is slang! Also, even in the same language a word can be spelt differently or have another meaning in another country.
We need a new way of expressing ourselves which is more precise, has fewer rules but for which there are no exceptions and words are spelt as they sound. But, how do we go about this. We probably need a ‘task force’ (another meaningless term) to be composed of all sorts of people to decide the following:
- Precise meanings of words and to get rid of alternatives;
- Find ways of using less punctuation;
- Make sure all words are six letters or less to make it easier to say and remember;
- Get rid of some of the silly letters of the alphabet like ‘x’ and add new ones that can be pronounced properly
- Words to have ‘silent’ letters removed;
- Be precise as to what are ‘proper’ nouns;
- ‘Proper’ nouns are not included in dictionaries as there are too many of them;
- The same with ‘slang’;
- What rules there should be and make sure there are no exceptions;
- Anything else I have missed out;
- Once complete, it is to be made ‘official’ and the only words to be in dictionaries and taught in schools;
- All qualifications to be only awarded if students have passed literacy and numeracy to a high standard.
I am sure that this will help improve understanding, the use of language and also hopefully, cause the media to be objective and the world of entertainment become creative in a good way in their use of words. It might even get rid of swearing and monotonous songs! With less words available, we might even use more of them. For the average person they only use about between 6,000 and 12,000 words. The Second Edition of the 20-volume Oxford English Dictionary contains full entries for 171,476 words in current use! So, there is scope for reduction in number of words available and an increase in the ones used. Schools need to increase the numbers of words and their meanings each year from primary to the end of secondary. I might even suggest that students do not progress into secondary school until they can read and write properly as well as having basic addition, subtraction, multiplication and division skills.