Georgians seem satisfied with language we already have

Published 2:28 pm Monday, January 29, 2024

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I saw a poll recently that says Georgians aren’t very interested in learning other languages. I don’t know what your excuse is but I’m still trying to master the language I already have. When I get who vs. whom figured out, you will be the first to know.

Test Prep Insight, an organization that works with students to get them ready for college, enrolling in a GRE prep course or learning a second language, commissioned a survey which says the Great State of Georgia is among the least bilingual states in America. Less than a quarter of us can converse in another language. That places us in lower half of the 50 states in 35th position.

As usual, Alabama, Mississippi and Arkansas rank behind us. What’s new? But I was surprised to find that the least multilingual states in the country according to Test Prep Insights are Iowa, Idaho, Maine and Delaware. While the survey doesn’t explain why, I can only assume that in the case of Iowa, Idaho and Maine, it is because it snows there all the time and knowing how to speak Portuguese isn’t going to change that fact.

As for Delaware, that’s the home of noted linguist Joe Biden, who told a crowd at the White House that he was the nation’s first senator from that state. He meant president. He introduced Vice President Kamala Harris as president and said there are 54 states in the U.S., which I assume would include Delaware. There are also 7,151 languages on Planet Earth. He wouldn’t make sense in one of them.

So, you are asking, who are the most multilingual states? I am glad you asked. (Frankly, I’m glad you have read this far.) They are Rhode Island, New Mexico, New Jersey, New Hampshire and California. What good that does them, I have no idea. I guess if you are from Rhode Island, you can say, “Sure, we are the teeniest state in the nation but I’ll bet you don’t know Swahili. Kula Moyo Wako Nje!”

The survey indicates that many of us don’t see the need to learn a second language even if we travel overseas. I wouldn’t classify myself a world traveler but between my corporate life and my time as a managing director of the 1996 Centennial Olympic Games, I visited a bunch of countries and don’t remember a one where the locals didn’t speak fluent English although some tried to hide the fact.

I remember a small gathering with the Chinese minister of sport prior to the 1996 Games.  The minister of sport is a big deal in China and China is a big deal in the Olympics. We asked him questions which his interpreter passed along in Chinese. The minister replied in Chinese and the interpreter translated his comments in English. All went well until the end of the dinner when the interpreter provided us an answer to one of our questions. The minister quickly responded in perfect English, “That’s not what I said.” He had been aware of everything we had said all evening and it made me wonder if in the conversations between them, they were talking about us in Chinese. (“Boss, I’ve decided that Yarbrough fellow is dumber than a rock.” “I agree, minion. He ate his rice with a spoon and stirred his tea with chopsticks. What a dork.”)

If folks living in other countries have mastered English, why can’t those coming to live in our country learn to speak our language as well? Why all the “Aqui se Habla Espanol” signs? Why not, “English-only spoken here. Deal with it.”

Even the English language can multilingual. It depends on where you reside. North of the Mason-You-know-Who line, fixing means you intend to fix something, like repair a leaky faucet. 

Around here if you say fixing, it means you are about to, as in, “Hon, I’m fixing to call Pete the Plumber about this dang leaky faucet while you fix dinner.”

I will admit that I am among the majority of Georgians that the survey says does not see the need to be multilingual. However, I might want to rethink that idea. I had a reader last week suggest that as far as writing columns go, I give it up along with my “incessant drivel.” I am wondering if he would like my column if I incessantly driveled it in another language. But I’m not fixing to ask him. He just might tell me. In English. Sacre Bleu!