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在美国 只懂英语会不会成为一种缺陷

更新时间:2018-8-28 21:12:19 来源:纽约时报中文网 作者:佚名

What is the future of English in the US?
在美国 只懂英语会不会成为一种缺陷

Ten years ago, I moved to Japan to teach English as a second language in a rural high school. The experience taught me just how fortunate I was, through dumb cosmic luck, to be a native English speaker.

十年前,我搬到日本,在一所乡村中学教英语,英语是学生们的第二语言。这段经历让我意识到,作为一个母语是英语的人多么幸运。

The combination of being American and a native English speaker is one that affords huge economic privilege to swathes of the United States population.

美国人的身份和以英语为母语这二者的结合,使美国人享有巨大的经济特权。

Why? Because over the last century, the English language has been the currency of global trade and communications. A 2013 Harvard University report found that English skills and better income go hand-in-hand, and that they lead to a better quality of life. Adults and children all over the world spend years, and invest a lot of money, in studying English as a second language.

为什么? 因为在过去的一个世纪里,英语一直是全球贸易和交流的通用语。哈佛大学(Harvard University) 2013年的一份报告发现,英语技能和更好的收入密切相关,从而带来更好的生活质量。全世界各地的成年人和儿童要花数年时间和投入大量金钱来学习作为第二语言的英语。

The problem for those of us who speak English from the cradle is that we forget how easy we have it.

对我们这些从小就说英语的人来说,问题是我们忘记了我们拥有英语技能是多么容易。

You see – despite being a racially diverse country where over 350 languages are spoken – the US, like many English-dominant countries, is filled with millions of people who grew up speaking English, and it’s the only language they speak. Plus, recent waves of US nationalism, harsh immigration policies and “English-only” rhetoric give the impression that Americans are fine with, and even proud of, cashing in on the luxury of being native English speakers.

美国是一个多种族的国家,使用的语言超过350种。但像许多英语占主导地位的国家一样,美国有数百万上千万的人,他们从小就说英语,而且只会说英语。此外,美国最近掀起的民族主义浪潮、严厉的移民政策和“只说英语”的论调给人的印象是,美国人对享受以英语为母语的优势很满意,甚至感到自豪。

But what’s the future of English given how America is changing? How the country is becoming even more diverse?

但是考虑到美国正在发生的变化,英语的未来会怎样? 这个国家能否变得更加多样化?

Monolingual America?

单语的美国?

The US has no official language – yet English has always reigned supreme.

美国没有官方语言,但英语一直是至高无上的。

Being a multicultural country of immigrants, the government has never implemented an official language at the federal level. Largely formed from a former British colony, it makes sense that the most common language is English. (It’s worth noting, however, that Native American languages like Navajo were targeted to be stamped out earlier in the nation’s history.)

作为一个多元文化的移民国家,美国政府从来没有在联邦一级推行过官方语言。英语之所以是使用最普遍的语言,在很大程度上源于英国殖民历史。不过,值得注意的是,像纳瓦霍语(Navajo )这样的美国土著语言,在美国历史早期已被消灭了。

Yet after decades in a country where people have only ever needed English to get by – as opposed to a place like Sweden for instance, where the national language is not English but English education starts early in primary school – the demographics are rapidly changing.

然而,几十年来,在一个人们只需要用英语就可以生活的国家——而不是像瑞典这样的一些国家,那里的母语不是英语,但英语教育早在小学就开始了——人口结构正在迅速变化。

“So great and so rapid are the shifts in the country's population, that, in the coming decade, the US is set to be transformed far more than other nations,” the Brookings Institution’s William H Frey wrote for the BBC last year.

布鲁金斯学会(Brookings Institution)的弗雷(William H Frey)去年为英国广播公司(BBC)撰文称:“美国人口的变化如此巨大和迅速,以至于在未来十年,美国的变化将远远超过其他国家。”

He is referring to the fact that, in 2018, almost half of young people in the US are from ethnic minority groups. Generation Z – loosely defined as those born after the year 2000 – is set to be the most racially diverse generation in US history, a figure powered by immigration and biracial relationships. And in 2011, the US Census reported that “the use of a language other than English at home increased by 148% between 1980 and 2009.”

他指的是,到2018年,美国几乎一半的年轻人来自少数民族。Z世代——大致定义为2000年后出生的人——将成为美国历史上种族最多样化的一代,这一数字是由移民和混血儿关系推动的。2011年,美国人口普查报告称,“1980年至2009年,家庭中英语以外的语言的使用增加了148%。”

These rapid changes could be part of what’s fuelling anti-immigrant sentiment among many white voters in the US. But the diversification of an already diverse country is a genie that can’t be put back into the bottle.

这些快速变化可能是美国许多白人选民反移民情绪高涨的原因之一。但是,在一个已经如此多元化的国家,多元化就是一个精灵,一旦放出来就不能再装回瓶子里。

And yet? Most Americans still only speak English.

可是,大多数美国人仍然只讲英语。

Many people are still raised in English-only speaking households, and studies show that by the third generation, many descendants of immigrant families lose their ability to speak their family’s language of heritage. The US Census estimates that around 231 million Americans aged five years or older, or about 80% of the population, speak only English at home. In 2013, a YouGov survey found that 75% of Americans only speak English – despite 43% of those surveyed stating that “Americans should know as many languages as possible.”

许多人在只说英语的家庭中长大。研究表明,到第三代,许多移民家庭的后代就会失去说他们家族传统语言的能力。美国人口普查估计,约有2.31亿5岁或5岁以上的美国人(约占美国总人口的80%)在家只说英语。2013年,舆观调查网(YouGov)的一项调查发现,75%的美国人只会说英语——尽管43%的受访者表示“美国人应该尽可能掌握更多语言”。

Although, with this increasingly diverse youngest generation, this is starting to change: more people are growing up bilingual. Between 2000 and 2016, the percentage of children who speak another language at home increased from 18% to 22%.

不过随着年轻一代的多元化程度越来越高,这种情况开始发生变化:越来越多的人在双语环境中成长。从2000年到2016年,在家里说另一种语言的儿童比例从18%上升到22%。

“We are encouraging heritage speakers to continue or learn their native language – to become fully biliterate and bilingual,” says Marty Abbott, executive director of the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages. “That’s a radical shift from the old days.”

“我们鼓励传统语言的使用者继续学习他们的母语——成为完全的双语者,”美国外语教学委员会(American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages)执行主任阿伯特(Marty Abbott)说。“与过去相比,这是一个根本性的转变。”

She’s referring to the late 1990s and early 2000s – when more states had “English-only” movements that pushed to have English as the sole language for government matters. (Currently, around 30 states have such laws, which require all legal and governmental communications to be in English.) Today, groups like Abbott’s are encouraging “heritage speakers” in families to continue using their native languages.

她指的是上世纪90年代末和本世纪初——当时,越来越多的州实行”只讲英语”的运动,推动英语成为政府事务的唯一语言(目前大约有30个州有这样的法律,要求所有法律和政府通信都必须使用英语)。如今,像阿伯特所在的美国外语教学委员会这样的组织正在鼓励家庭中的“传统语言使用者”继续使用他们的母语。

But when your country is huge, flanked by oceans and has long land borders, there’s less immediate motivation, or even opportunity to use a second or third language.

但是,如果你的国家幅员辽阔,四面环海,陆地边界很长,就缺乏直接的动力,甚至没有机会使用第二种或第三种语言。

Why learn a new language?

为什么要学习一门新语言?

English is also dominant in the business world. Some multinational corporations, like Honda in Japan, for instance, are pushing to make English the official language of the company by 2020. So why should English speakers already working in the US even bother learning something else?

英语在商业世界也占主导地位。一些跨国公司,比如日本的本田公司(Honda),正努力在2020年前让英语成为公司的官方语言。那么,已经在美国工作的英语使用者为什么还要费心去学习其他语言呢?

The answer lies in the change taking place in the US jobs market. Being at least somewhat fluent in another language really does make you more marketable to employers – and that even goes for native English speakers.

答案在于美国就业市场正在发生的变化。能说至少一门流利的外语确实能让你在雇主面前更有竞争力——甚至对以英语为母语的人来说也是如此。

Last year, a report from New American Economy, a coalition of 500 mayors across the political spectrum in the US, found that adverts for bilingual workers in the US doubled between 2010 and 2015. Some companies have ramped up the search more than others – a full third of job openings posted by Bank of America in 2015, for example, were for bilingual workers who could speak languages like Spanish, Mandarin and Arabic. The report noted that the fastest growth in bilingual listings were for “high prestige jobs” like financial managers, editors and industrial engineers.

去年,联合了美国500名市长的”新美国经济”网站(New American Economy)发布了一份报告,报告显示,2010年至2015年间,美国招聘双语工作者的广告数量翻了一番。一些公司加大了招聘力度——例如,美国银行(Bank of America)在2015年发布的招聘信息中,有三分之一是面向会说西班牙语、汉语普通话和阿拉伯语等语言的双语员工。报告指出,双语职位招聘数量增长最快的是“高声望职位”,如财务经理、编辑和工业工程师。

“One can imagine a lot of opportunities for Americans that learn Mandarin,” says David Lightfoot, professor of linguistics at Georgetown University in Washington, DC. “The need for Americans to learn Chinese is, in some ways, quite powerful because there’s so little English spoken in China.”

“人们可以想象,学习汉语普通话的美国人会有很多机会,”位于华盛顿的乔治城大学(Georgetown University )语言学教授莱特富特(David Lightfoot)说。“在某种程度上,美国人学习汉语的需求是相当强大的,因为在中国很少有人说英语。”

Still, despite the potential payoff, the numbers of Americans learning new languages is still low. A new study from the Pew Research Center published this week found that the US is way behind most European countries in terms of learning languages in school. It found that just 20% of American students are learning another language. The median for European students was 92%.

然而,尽管有潜在的回报,学习新语言的美国人仍然很少。皮尤研究中心(Pew Research Center)最近发布的一项新研究发现,在校学习语言方面,美国远远落后于大多数欧洲国家。研究发现,只有20%的美国学生在学习另一种语言。欧洲学生的中位数则是92%。

And if not purely to get you a job, there are other tangible pluses to learning an additional language. (A proverb that I love states: “The more languages you speak, the more times you are a human.”) There are cognitive benefits too – learning another language can boost skills like concentration.

如果不仅仅是为了得到一份工作,学习一门外语还有其他实实在在的好处。此外还有认知上的好处——学习另一种语言可以提高注意力等技能。

Bridging the empathy gap

弥合同情心缺口

There is also another imperative to discourage monolingualism in the US – the growing empathy gap.

在美国,还有另一个必须阻止单一语言主义(monolingualism)趋势的迫切因素——就是在美国现正不断扩大的同情心缺失现象。同情心是指可以感受他人情感,能换位思考的能力。

Experts point to a lack of certain life experiences as being responsible for generating a profound lack of understanding between groups. Abbott points to the experience of traveling to a non-English-speaking country, especially one that doesn’t use a Roman alphabet. She says being a suddenly mute fish-out-of-water is something that you just can’t relate to unless you experience it.

专家指出,缺乏某些生活经验是造成群体之间严重缺乏理解的原因。阿伯特提到了去一个非英语国家旅行的经历,尤其是去一个不使用拉丁字母的国家。她说,除非你经历过,否则从如鱼离水突然变成哑巴这样的事你是无法感同身受的。

“So when the cashier at the checkout gets impatient with someone who isn’t understanding or even [knows] how to pay, or how to bag groceries – I’ve been in that situation – I just watched and copied what the person in front of me did,” says Abbott. “I think everyone needs to be patient with people.”

阿伯特说,“所以当收银台的收银员对一个不明白甚至不知道如何付款,或者不知道如何打包杂货的人不耐烦的时候——我有过这种遭遇——我就会观察并模仿我前面的人的行为。我认为每个人都需要对人有耐心。”

But some data suggests that Americans just aren’t as interested – or able – to put themselves in this sort of situation. Americans don’t travel abroad quite as much as some other native English speakers. Just over 40% of Americans own passports – compare to 57% of Australians, for example. (That American number is on the rise, though.) After all, other countries are farther away and it’s more expensive for Americans to travel internationally than, say, Brits, who can hop to Europe in under an hour.

但一些数据表明,美国人只是对这种情境不感兴趣,或者没有能力把自己置身于这种情境中。美国人出国旅游的次数不如其他英语国家的人多。例如,只有超过40%的美国人拥有护照,而澳大利亚人的这一比例为57%。毕竟,外国离美国都很远,美国人出国旅行的费用也比许多国家高,比如英国人,英国人不到一小时就能到达欧洲其他国家。

The real solution might lie at home, however. The main way to address monolingualism is to simply start teaching foreign languages earlier in school.

然而,真正的解决方案可能在于国内。解决单一语言主义的主要方法是在学校尽早开始教授外语。

“Expose them to languages at a time where they can soak it up – not when they’re 12 years old, and certainly not when they’re 30 years old,” says Lightfoot.

莱特富特说,“让美国人在可以吸收知识的年龄时候就开始接触其他语言——不是在12岁的时候,当然更不是在30岁的时候。”

But if people don’t want to learn another language, well, they won’t learn another language.

但是,如果人们不想学习另一种语言,那么他们就不会去学习。

“Motivation is a complicated issue,” says Lightfoot. “I lived in Montreal for several years in the ‘70s, and there, it’s very easy to learn French – all you have to do is switch the television channel and watch the hockey game.”

莱特富特说,“动机是一个复杂的问题。70年代我在蒙特利尔(Montreal)住了几年,在那里,学法语很容易——你所要做的就是切换电视频道,看冰球比赛。”

But he mentions that wasn’t always the case. It wasn’t until 1976 when a new separatist government came in and shifted the focus to learning and using French. “Resistance to learning French in Montreal was enormous, and that goes to the political history,” says Lightfoot.

但他指出,情况并非总是如此。直到1976年,一个新的分离主义政府上台,才将重点转向学习和使用法语。莱特富特说,“在蒙特利尔,学习法语的阻力曾经很大,这可以追溯到政治史。”

While the US might have a reputation for being monolingual, like many English-centred nations – and the dominance of English isn’t likely to be challenged anytime soon – the data and trends suggest possible changes in Americans' linguistic habits.

和许多以英语为中心的国家一样,美国可能以单语著称——而且英语的主导地位不太可能在短期内受到挑战——但数据和趋势表明,美国人的语言习惯可能会发生变化。

For us native English speakers, it’s easy to fall back on the skills we already have. But the bigger rewards might come from using the ones we don’t.

对于我们这些以英语为母语的人来说,我们很容易依赖我们已有的技能。但更大的回报可能来自于使用我们本不具备的那些技能。

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