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在美國 只懂英語會不會成為一種缺陷

What is the future of English in the US?
在美國 只懂英語會不會成為一種缺陷

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,在一所鄉村中學教英語,英語是學生們的第二語言。這段經歷讓我意識到,作為一個母語是英語的人多么幸運。

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

美國人的身份和以英語為母語這二者的結合,使美國人享有巨大的經濟特權。

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.

為什么? 因為在過去的一個世紀里,英語一直是全球貿易和交流的通用語。哈佛大學(Harvard University) 2013年的一份報告發現,英語技能和更好的收入密切相關,從而帶來更好的生活質量。全世界各地的成年人和兒童要花數年時間和投入大量金錢來學習作為第二語言的英語。

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

對我們這些從小就說英語的人來說,問題是我們忘記了我們擁有英語技能是多么容易。

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.

美國是一個多種族的國家,使用的語言超過350種。但像許多英語占主導地位的國家一樣,美國有數百萬上千萬的人,他們從小就說英語,而且只會說英語。此外,美國最近掀起的民族主義浪潮、嚴厲的移民政策和“只說英語”的論調給人的印象是,美國人對享受以英語為母語的優勢很滿意,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?

但是考慮到美國正在發生的變化,英語的未來會怎樣? 這個國家能否變得更加多樣化?

Monolingual America?

單語的美國?

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

美國沒有官方語言,但英語一直是至高無上的。

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.)

作為一個多元文化的移民國家,美國政府從來沒有在聯邦一級推行過官方語言。英語之所以是使用最普遍的語言,在很大程度上源于英國殖民歷史。不過,值得注意的是,像納瓦霍語(Navajo )這樣的美國土著語言,在美國歷史早期已被消滅了。

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,幾十年來,在一個人們只需要用英語就可以生活的國家——而不是像瑞典這樣的一些國家,那里的母語不是英語,但英語教育早在小學就開始了——人口結構正在迅速變化。

“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.

布魯金斯學會(Brookings Institution)的弗雷(William H Frey)去年為英國廣播公司(BBC)撰文稱:“美國人口的變化如此巨大和迅速,以至于在未來十年,美國的變化將遠遠超過其他國家。”

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,美國幾乎一半的年輕人來自少數民族。Z世代——大致定義為2000年后出生的人——將成為美國歷史上種族最多樣化的一代,這一數字是由移民和混血兒關系推動的。2011年,美國人口普查報告稱,“1980年至2009年,家庭中英語以外的語言的使用增加了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.

這些快速變化可能是美國許多白人選民反移民情緒高漲的原因之一。但是,在一個已經如此多元化的國家,多元化就是一個精靈,一旦放出來就不能再裝回瓶子里。

And yet? Most Americans still only speak English.

可是,大多數美國人仍然只講英語。

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.”

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許多人在只說英語的家庭中長大。研究表明,到第三代,許多移民家庭的后代就會失去說他們家族傳統語言的能力。美國人口普查估計,約有2.31億5歲或5歲以上的美國人(約占美國總人口的80%)在家只說英語。2013年,輿觀調查網(YouGov)的一項調查發現,75%的美國人只會說英語——盡管43%的受訪者表示“美國人應該盡可能掌握更多語言”。

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%.

不過隨著年輕一代的多元化程度越來越高,這種情況開始發生變化:越來越多的人在雙語環境中成長。從2000年到2016年,在家里說另一種語言的兒童比例從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.”

“我們鼓勵傳統語言的使用者繼續學習他們的母語——成為完全的雙語者,”美國外語教學委員會(American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages)執行主任阿伯特(Marty Abbott)說。“與過去相比,這是一個根本性的轉變。”

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.

她指的是上世紀90年代末和本世紀初——當時,越來越多的州實行”只講英語”的運動,推動英語成為政府事務的唯一語言(目前大約有30個州有這樣的法律,要求所有法律和政府通信都必須使用英語)。如今,像阿伯特所在的美國外語教學委員會這樣的組織正在鼓勵家庭中的“傳統語言使用者”繼續使用他們的母語。

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,如果你的國家幅員遼闊,四面環海,陸地邊界很長,就缺乏直接的動力,甚至沒有機會使用第二種或第三種語言。

Why learn a new language?

為什么要學習一門新語言?

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?

英語在商業世界也占主導地位。一些跨國公司,比如日本的本田公司(Honda),正努力在2020年前讓英語成為公司的官方語言。那么,已經在美國工作的英語使用者為什么還要費心去學習其他語言呢?

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.

答案在于美國就業市場正在發生的變化。能說至少一門流利的外語確實能讓你在雇主面前更有競爭力——甚至對以英語為母語的人來說也是如此。

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,聯合了美國500名市長的”新美國經濟”網站(New American Economy)發布了一份報告,報告顯示,2010年至2015年間,美國招聘雙語工作者的廣告數量翻了一番。一些公司加大了招聘力度——例如,美國銀行(Bank of America)在2015年發布的招聘信息中,有三分之一是面向會說西班牙語、漢語普通話和阿拉伯語等語言的雙語員工。報告指出,雙語職位招聘數量增長最快的是“高聲望職位”,如財務經理、編輯和工業工程師。

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“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.”

“人們可以想象,學習漢語普通話的美國人會有很多機會,”位于華盛頓的喬治城大學(Georgetown University )語言學教授萊特富特(David Lightfoot)說。“在某種程度上,美國人學習漢語的需求是相當強大的,因為在中國很少有人說英語。”

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,盡管有潛在的回報,學習新語言的美國人仍然很少。皮尤研究中心(Pew Research Center)最近發布的一項新研究發現,在校學習語言方面,美國遠遠落后于大多數歐洲國家。研究發現,只有20%的美國學生在學習另一種語言。歐洲學生的中位數則是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.

如果不僅僅是為了得到一份工作,學習一門外語還有其他實實在在的好處。此外還有認知上的好處——學習另一種語言可以提高注意力等技能。

Bridging the empathy gap

彌合同情心缺口

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

在美國,還有另一個必須阻止單一語言主義(monolingualism)趨勢的迫切因素——就是在美國現正不斷擴大的同情心缺失現象。同情心是指可以感受他人情感,能換位思考的能力。

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.

專家指出,缺乏某些生活經驗是造成群體之間嚴重缺乏理解的原因。阿伯特提到了去一個非英語國家旅行的經歷,尤其是去一個不使用拉丁字母的國家。她說,除非你經歷過,否則從如魚離水突然變成啞巴這樣的事你是無法感同身受的。

“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.”

阿伯特說,“所以當收銀臺的收銀員對一個不明白甚至不知道如何付款,或者不知道如何打包雜貨的人不耐煩的時候——我有過這種遭遇——我就會觀察并模仿我前面的人的行為。我認為每個人都需要對人有耐心。”

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.

但一些數據表明,美國人只是對這種情境不感興趣,或者沒有能力把自己置身于這種情境中。美國人出國旅游的次數不如其他英語國家的人多。例如,只有超過40%的美國人擁有護照,而澳大利亞人的這一比例為57%。畢竟,外國離美國都很遠,美國人出國旅行的費用也比許多國家高,比如英國人,英國人不到一小時就能到達歐洲其他國家。

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,真正的解決方案可能在于國內。解決單一語言主義的主要方法是在學校盡早開始教授外語。

“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.

萊特富特說,“讓美國人在可以吸收知識的年齡時候就開始接觸其他語言——不是在12歲的時候,當然更不是在30歲的時候。”

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

但是,如果人們不想學習另一種語言,那么他們就不會去學習。

“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.”

萊特富特說,“動機是一個復雜的問題。70年代我在蒙特利爾(Montreal)住了幾年,在那里,學法語很容易——你所要做的就是切換電視頻道,看冰球比賽。”

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,情況并非總是如此。直到1976年,一個新的分離主義政府上臺,才將重點轉向學習和使用法語。萊特富特說,“在蒙特利爾,學習法語的阻力曾經很大,這可以追溯到政治史。”

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.

和許多以英語為中心的國家一樣,美國可能以單語著稱——而且英語的主導地位不太可能在短期內受到挑戰——但數據和趨勢表明,美國人的語言習慣可能會發生變化。

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.

對于我們這些以英語為母語的人來說,我們很容易依賴我們已有的技能。但更大的回報可能來自于使用我們本不具備的那些技能。

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