I am back from Colombia and classes – in “African Migration,” “Gender and Development,” “Sustainability of Growth,” to name a few – have started right away. As you may guess from their titles, most of them are in English. For me, this has become the norm. English is the language used in academia; even in Mannheim, where I studied before, all my classes were conducted in English. It also happens to be the language I use when I chat with my friends.
In this post, I would like to talk a bit about English as a lingua franca (ELF). That sounds terribly complicated but, in essence, is quite simple. A typical ELF dialogue, for instance, may occur whenever a Portuguese and a Romanian have a conversation in English over lunch in a Parisian café. It would most likely also take place when a German tourist asks for directions in a foreign country, say Sweden. ELF means that people who do not speak the same language will use English to communicate.
In my French class, this phenomenon is particularly striking. During class, we speak French to each other. Yet as soon as the bell rings, we switch to English. Now, that would be understandable if we did not have a good command of the language. But we are all in C1. In other words: We do not have difficulties to communicate in French, but still choose English in private conversations. Far from intending to discriminate against French as a language, we are simply used to communicate in English in an international environment. One could say we are almost conditioned to do so. Again, it has become the norm.
There is also some sort of inclusive element in using English. Take posts on Instagram or Facebook. They are often in English so that more people understand them. What started with celebrities has long reached everyday folks. People in many countries have become more mobile in the last decades. Which means that they, over time, find friends from different places. In seeking to reach out to all their friends, they will either simply post in English, or in English and their mother tongue. The Belgian national football team has chosen the former option. All their posts on Twitter are in English. Belgium has three official languages, none of them being English – another typical ELF example.
My time in Paris is slowly coming to an end. So far, I have learned a lot; particularly when it comes to foreign languages. In London, though English is obviously quite predominant there, I will nonetheless get the opportunity to practice other languages, too: French, Spanish, Chinese. In this regard, Paris and London are fairly similar.
In May, once my final exams and essays are finished, I will visit a good friend of mine in Lisbon, Portugal. After that, I will be in Mumbai, India, for a three-month internship. But more on that in future blog posts. Next month, I will talk about interests I developed in France. See you then!
February 2019 | Loë Guthmann