Global English: “Progress or linguistic colonization?”

Posted on in Linguistic democracy in Italy 20 vedi

pagine 24-25 del Il FuturistaThe programme “Report” is very much watched: it is carefully structured and many see it as a prototype of straight-backed, unwavering journalism. This is the reason why the programme is so admired by today’s youth, who now see “Report” as the mirror of our country’s ‘reality’ which is hardly ever represented faithfully by our state’s plastic audiovision.
Unfortunately Milena Gabanelli’s decision goes against the Gelmini reform of cutting down on English teachers, and I do want to give her the benefit of the doubt that hosting Peter Sloan on the program was to prove that any young audience can not only drink up from the magic anglophile source, but it gave way to a distorted representation of reality, for at least two good reasons:

First of all, Mariastella Gelmini introduced the CLIL (or perhaps “kill” would be more appropriate), Content and Language Integrated Learning consists in teaching a non-linguistic subject in a foreign language. More than 9000 CLIL applications that were sent to Miur, a total of 14% of were not for the English language. Do our young really need more English? If anything, we are risking an overdose. Isn’t it time to show some concern for the other language teachers or for the deterioration of the Italian language, seeing as students will be learning words that they should know in their own mothertongue, and not just in English, in a country where, according to the EU Commission’s statistics, one 15-year-old out of 5 is semi-illiterate?

Secondly, the minister has introduced the compulsory requirement that all teachers must have a B2 certificate, by the European standard, in English, regardless of the subject they teach, an equivalent of the widely-known First Certificate. This requirement is anti-constitutional and goes against the right to work norms, as there is no training course in store for precarious employees, and these employees will have to pay for private lessons out of their own pocket in order to access this facility. Together with the FLC-CGIL, we, ERA, did infact write a letter to the Head of State last year. All this, of course, bearing in mind the absolute madness of needing to know English in order to teach Spanish.

It is also worth noting that whoever watches the programme is accustomed to identifying it as one that denounces incidents that, as mentioned above, we normally don’t get to see on our country’s regular broadcasts: as a consequence, it is an automatic reaction for our audience to associate Peter Sloan’s kind paternalism, he who blocks the Italian people, denouncing them for their scarce knowledge of English, something that can be scandously compared to Kipling’s way of greeting the Indians. All this does not change the fact that Gabanelli is right in protesting against cutting the English-teaching staff, which, in Lazio alone, has reached up to 78%. The question is, however, much more complex than how “Report” and Peter Sloan have made it out to be, and I’m afraid that the result of Sloan’s little tv English lessons will only help increase sales and Gruppo Espresso’s back catalog demands. 

Let it be enphasized that Sloan’s appearance in “Report,” on state television which is payed by the people’s taxes, coincides with the release of Espresso’s “Speak Now,” a happy coincidence attributed soley to Fate, with a touch of Janesinism which can not help but open the most resistant heart to the light of divine Providence.

The linguistic genocide that Gloabl English is creating around the world (more than half of the planet’s languages will be extinct within this century) is also partly due to the interests of the English-speaking superpowers, and also partially due to the State goverments which use the English language as an instrument to blindly solve national problems and, more often than not, use it to keep the current power balance and the unfair social-linguistic situation unaltered. 

In South Korea, for example, there are those who would like English to become the official language, in an almost exclusively monolingual country that speaks Korean: recent studies have shown that there is a correlation between the imposition of the English language and the crystallization of the power systems within a nation (see “English as an official language in South Korea – Global English or social malady?”, Jae Jung Song,University of Otago). For us, in Italy, the goverment of commercial spots and proclamations is using English-for-all as a red herring, used to mask a policy that cuts the funding for education and an incapacity to manage and resolve the problems of precarious employees.

The unfair discrimination against teachers of a second language and the auto-subordination to a foreign language instead of the national one will only encourage the level of marginalization of our language in the world and in our own State, while this monolingual English-speaking regime will soon find itself with teachers who have been taught English in a number of hours across a few weeks and inadequate, as they themselves have stated, to teach English, placed there to fill the gap of the real English teachers that have been fired. 

All this is leading to a future generation which will have a poor ability in its own mothertongue, very little knowledge of other languages and a coating of grammatically incorrect English which could, in the best of cases, be useless, and in the worst case scenario, increase the percentage of dislexic children. Prof. Robert Phillipson, one of the most educated linguistic colonialism experts in the world, and author of “Linguistic Imperialism,” desrcibed Italy’s situation as “horrible” and chose to speak out publicly at the National Assembly that was held on the 28th of May, 2011 and organized by the “Esperanto” Radical Association. 

This is what ought to be denounced. The way in which the pogramme is dealing with the problem, aside from being simplistic, it is generalized: it shows what a scandal it is that Italians have little knowledge of the English language, while Sloan speaks Italian so badly that is it obscene, it is so bad that he should not be allowed to be on air during the protected margin. However, nobody dares point this out to him, as he is the keeper of the dominant language and, even though he is in Italy, it is the Italians that should be speaking like him.

Great Britain has, as of 2004, abolished the obbligation to learn a second language, while we, in the meantime, have to know English to teach in Italy, our children will study geography in English and in the evening, an English lesson will take place during “Report.” 

The question remains, why do Italians continue to tolerate this linguistic oppression? The problem is that the most intolerable political situations can generate insufferable affairs that make the existence of oppressed people impossible: this intolerance, which is often accompanied by the worst conditions that a human being can imagine today, is often the mother of great future revolutions: it’s difficult, on the other hand, that one rebels when one is greatly aware and emotionally motivated. Passive acceptance and oppressive behaviour, as well as inequality and unfair conditions, spawn from the lack of political awareness. The most powerful dictatorships, like the Chinese, are giulty for having crushed any type of demonstration of free thought; some democracies, like our own, are guilty for having allowed free thought to elaborate a plan so that free thought can never happen. In that way, while intolerence and oppression, as awful as it may be, it is at least fertile enough to produce a long line of strong sons which will be able to overthrow the father/dictator that bred them. The western spleen, a masterpiece created among distractions, propaganda and deformation, is unfortunately sterile, and this is every regime’s policy for life. 

The persecutions against the Tibetan language has pushed the people to mobilize and have generated the indignation of the international community. Westerners love to be indignant, because it is an activity which produces a considerable amount of distraction and it requires little effort and few expenses. But to change the way things stand one must inform oneself and take intitiative, two notions that are generally followed by the words “sweat” and “work.” This is why there are indignant people are queueing up to show their feelings for the Han language and no one has yet lifted a finger against the imposition of the English language on the Italian one and other EU languages. 

Being a subtle imposition, and not a blatant one, not only is it never questioned, but it rests upon the support and the free participation of single individuals, who willingly sacrifice their own language in favour of Albione’s, seeing as no one can officially force them. 

Let’s imagine for a moment that the requirement to have a B2 level in English in order to teach Italian, or teaching a non-linguistic subject in English, meausures that will be put in to action with the Gelmini Reform, were sanctioned by an official English-speaking dictatorship. If that were the case, we would be witnessing all sorts of different resistance, rebellion and, naturally, indignation. That not being the case, Italy supports widespread English in great swarms. Using this excuse as leverage, Gelmini is eliminating work place and encouraging precarious work with frighteningly demented measures: yet everyone supports it because, just like a new-born religion, it would be ridiculous to even question or think about demonstrating against the imposition of the English language. 

However, it’s not considered ridiculous to fight against the imposition of the Chinese language. How strange, considering that when you make the comparison between global English, the language in uncontrollable expansion that is killing all others, and the languages that are threatened by Chinese, the comparison is non-existant. According to the most optimistic calculations, 50% of the languages of the world risk extinction within this century, the main factor being the expansion and imposition of the English language on an international level. 

Chinese is difficult from the point of view of many languages, including Tibetan. Why, then, do the demonstrations against the forced requirement to learn Chinese sound reasonable, but not against English? Obvious: because English is the democratic language. It’s not like it’s the language of a regime that doesn’t respect human rights. At least that’s what they say. Just try going to Guantanamo. 

Giorgio Pagano


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