Bi-lingualism does not mean merely the ability to order a meal or to do shopping or even to conduct a conversation of sorts in a language other than the native one. It means the ability to switch from one language to another smoothly and effortlessly; to read and enjoy the reading in both languages; to feel at home in both cultures; to understand the character of the nation speaking the non-native language of the bi-lingual person.
One of the acid tests of bi-lingualism is the ability to tell a joke and make people laugh, in the non-native language. (Provided, of course, the talent to tell jokes is there in the first place.)
Is this possible for the average person? It is certainly for geniuses and some millionaires. Millions of Canadians, Welsh, Belgians, Swiss, Indians, Africans, Israelis, Ukrainians, Georgians and others are thus bi-lingual and have no problems about it. Even some English and Scots, French and Americans are bi-lingual. And they are not all geniuses or even professors of modern languages. ...
Nowadays, international assemblies are provided at tremendous expense - with excellent simultaneous translation. This is a fine art, populated by talented practitioners. But the European Parliament is presumably going to be much more than a mere international assembly. It is going to be a permanent institution, with committees, subcommittees, and all the paraphernalia of a parliament, while international conferences, like all good things, sooner or later come to an end.
It is pretty obvious that an institution like the European Parliament could not possibly prosper on simultaneous translation. There is all the difference in the world between listening to a speech with the help of ear phones and being an integrated person in the proceedings and the life of an institution, in and out of formal session. Very few things are more embarrassing than the forlorn smiles of two well-meaning people who fail to grasp what is being said. And how on earth can you have a fruitful private and confidential conversation with the help of an interpreter? . . .
But how is bi-lingualism to be achieved, even in small circles, in a monolingual country such as this?
Complete bi-lingualism can never be achieved in a monolingual school. There is, of course, the very nice alternative of spending part of the school and university years in another country and within another language and culture. But this is given only to a very few.
The answer lies in bi-lingual schools for those who wish to be bi-lingual. And I am not referring to those mushrooming so-called language academies and instant language institutes. I have in mind truly bilingual schools on the lines of the French Lycee in London or some of the Swiss schools. Those are good schools where two languages have equal status, with the stress on the second one, since the native language has a habit of taking care of itself.
I am assured by experts that it should cost no more to maintain a bi-lingual school than a monolingual one.
Half a dozen bi-lingual schools across Britain would not put an undue strain on the educational system.
However, my purpose of this piece is to point out a problem, and perhaps someone will suggest a solution.
acid test : decisive test of value
paraphernalia (only pl.): Drum und Dran
prosper on sth.: do well with sth.
mushroom (v.): wie Pilze aus dem Boden schiessen
on the line of : similar to
put an undue strain on sb./sth.: cause unnecessary problems for sb./sth.
Understanding the contents
1. According to Goldsmith, what abilities must a person have in order to be considered bilingual?
2. Why do the people mentioned manage to master a second language without much difficulty?
3. Where, in the writer's opinion, is bi-lingualism particularly desirable? What reasons does he give?
4. What does Goldsmith suggest in order to increase the numbers of bi-lingual speakers in monolingual Britain?
Analysing the text
5. Identify the text form* of this text. Give reasons for your answer.
6. Trace the writer's arguments through the text.
7. Show what kind of order* Goldsmith uses in his text.
8. What stylistic devices typical of this text type* can you find?
9. Are there any flaws in Goldsmith's arguments? Explain.
Working with the language
10. a) Study the text to find which verbs form collocations with the following nouns: "conversation", "joke", "language".
b) Use your dictionary to find verbs that collocate with "meaning" "report", "speech", "translation".
11. Knowing the sayings of another language helps you to understand the character and culture of the nation speaking that language. Give the German equivalents of the following sayings, explain them in English and point out the stylistic devices used in the different versions.
a) A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.
b) Hunger is the best sauce.
c) Don't count your chickens before they are hatched.
d) Do as you would be done by.
e) Like father, like son.
f) The tailor makes the man.
g) Birds of a feather flock together.
h) Dog does not eat dog.
i) First come, first served.
j) The early bird catches the worm.
Going beyond the text
12. Make a list of five jobs in which knowledge of at least one foreign language is an advantage or a necessity. Write a brief description* of one of these jobs, including an explanation of the usefulness of foreign languages.
13. Write a letter to the editor* commenting on some of the ideas and arguments put forth by Goldsmith.
14. a) Imagine there were plans to make your school bi-lingual (English or French). That would mean that a number of subjects - maybe even most - wculd be taught in the foreign language. Make notes with all the advantages and disadvanatges of such a change that you can think of.
b) Use your notes for a discussion or debate.