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In a recent speech in Berlin debating Europe’s future, Germany’s president Joachim Gauck appealed to the United Kingdom to stay in the European Union, by suggesting that English be made the common language of Europe. According to the Guardian, Gauck said “we need your experience… we need your traditions, your sober-mindedness and your courage”. Although it has been argued in a previous SCAN by myself and Alex Littleboy whether the UK should choose to remain in the European Union at all, it seems that the rest of Europe are busy trying to sweeten the pot; with Cameron’s referendum apparently receiving heavy criticism at the summit in Berlin.
The German president wants to encourage a greater sense of community between the European countries, and a way of achieving this would be to introduce a common language, as well as continuing to encourage multilingualism. As nice as it is to ask the rest of Europe to begin speaking our language, this could also be detrimental for us residents of the United Kingdom, we already have a reputation as a nation that assumes everybody else can communicate effectively in English and therefore we have no need to embrace multilingualism. By choosing to make English a communal European language, it will provide even less incentive for us Brits to want to learn other languages, because a common thought may well be “why should we?” Gauck was quick to defend multilingualism in his speech, describing it as “the sense of being at home in your mother tongue”, as well as having a grasp of “workable English for all of life’s situations and age groups”. Personally, as nice as it would be to be able to travel anywhere in Europe and know that every person I meet has been taught to speak fluent English, it seems like an unrealistic dream.
On the other hand I also feel that the United Kingdom’s education system does not do enough to teach pupils foreign languages and that we should be forced to become fluent in Spanish, French – or even, yes, German. Furthermore, my pet hate is other nation’s trying to transform the English in an attempt to make it their own, the best example of this being the detested ‘American-English’. As far as I’m concerned, changing ‘s’ for ‘z’ and pronouncing words like ‘aluminium’ completely wrong does not constitute an entirely new form of English. If English were to be embraced by the entirety of Europe, it would require good teachers, possibly even opening a whole new sector of jobs for British people to whom English is a first language, that can go to schools in Europe and make sure that each and every child knows how to correctly use English grammar, spelling and pronunciation – as it is often said that English is one of the hardest languages to learn.
Languages aside, it is clear that whether or not we choose to stay in the European Union, the United Kingdom will continue to have a special place in the heart of Europe. Through our ups and downs over the centuries, we have always held a significant place in the grand scheme of things, and as Gauck rightly stated, we have experience within the EU as the “oldest parliamentary democracy”. Gauck was also unafraid to talk of his country’s dark past, and spoke of Britain’s great importance in founding modern Europe by fighting against the Nazi party in the mid-twentieth century, stating that “you helped to save our Europe… it is also your Europe, and more Europe cannot mean a Europe without you”. Without a doubt, Gauck’s passionate speech will have done a fantastic job of stroking Cameron’s, and heck, all of Britain’s ego – but is it enough to keep us snug in the bosom of the EU?