Posted by: patenttranslator | February 16, 2012

Speak Only One Language (English) And Be Good To Your Dog If You Want To Be American President

Those who know nothing of foreign languages know nothing of their own.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

This is one very good reason why people should learn foreign languages. You can’t really appreciate your own language until and unless you know at least one other language, preferably a few. But people who speak only one language don’t realize it, of course, because they have no idea what I am talking about.

People don’t realize it, but it is much easier now to learn foreign languages, for most people, than just a few decades ago. The Berlin Wall and the Iron Curtain exist now only as exhibits in museums, a crumbling piece of concrete, or a short stretch of barbed wire that used to be much longer not that long ago. Most people can travel freely now anywhere if they have the money and the time, and just about anybody can read just about anything on the Internet in just about any language.

But I wouldn’t say that people are learning languages more now than they used to a few centuries ago or a few decades ago. They probably travel more, but they don’t really learn languages. They are mostly just waiting for the magical moment when machine translation will finally start making perfect sense.

They have been waiting for a few decades for that moment and I think that they will be waiting for it for another century, or two, or three … that is if people are still able to live on this planet centuries from now, which at this point does not seem all that likely.

The knowledge of several languages used to be a sign of keen intellect and erudition. But I am not certain that this is still the case now. “To have another language is to possess a second soul” is what Charlemagne allegedly said around the year 800. And Charles V, another ruler of the Holy Roman Empire, which was neither holy, nor Roman, nor an Empire, said about 700 years later:”I speak Spanish to God, Italian to women, French to men and German to my horse.”

Now that’s a real king in my book.

But I am pretty sure that Obama speaks only English, and Sarkozy speaks only French. They say that Angela Merkel speaks pretty good Russian, but I’ll believe it when I hear her being interviewed in Russian on Russian TV.

However, the long-established hostile attitude to foreign languages seems to be slowly changing here in the United States. Probably the main reason why Americans were not interested in foreign languages was that there simply was no money in it, unlike for example in dentistry, law, or marihuana and quite a few other things that I think of, so why bother learning a foreign language. Especially since most people just about everywhere already speak English, or ought to, anyway.

But as I was saying, the long-established hostile attitude to foreign languages seems to be slowly changing here. Maybe it is because America owes so much money to China. Americans always start paying attention when somebody starts talking about a lot of money. Maybe that’s what it is.

A medical doctor I know from my gym has been learning Chinese on his own for about a year now. He tried things like Rosetta Stone, (which is in his opinion “garbage”), and various other language courses. He went to visit China with his son, who is a friend of my son. He realizes now that he will probably never really learn Chinese because it is such a complicated language, but he is not giving up. “Yes, it’s just a hobby for me”, he said, “but I like it”.

Another friend of my son is taking Chinese as either his major or minor subject at the University of Virginia in addition to … I forgot what, economics or something like that. I tend to remember mostly just languages.

So I tested him on a Japanese patent that I was translating, because it had a lot of Chinese characters, of course.

And he was not too bad. I was probably a little better when it came to Chinese or Japanese characters when I was his age, but not by much.

There was one Republican presidential hopeful early in the never ending presidential campaign here who is in fact fluent in Chinese, or at least says so, his name is Jon Huntsman. Unfortunately he did not last very long in that freak show. He was probably either too smart or not rich enough to be a presidential candidate for the Republican party.

It looks like Obama will cross swords with Mitt Romney, a man who is worth north of 250 million dollars and who once strapped his dog to the roof of his car, (in a dog carrier, of course), and then drove the car for 12 hours with the dog on the roof!

“Whoof, whoof, are we there yet?”

Personally, I don’t think that he has a snowball’s chance in hell to beat Obama in November.

Americans could probably forgive him for being a Mormon, and they might even forgive him that he speaks French, especially since he refuses to admit that he speaks the language or to speak it to French reporters, because being fluent in French is a major handicap for an American politician, let alone a presidential candidate.

Americans are exposed to so many vile and slanderous commercials at the end of an endless presidential campaign that they can really remember only one major thing about the candidates.

Bill Clinton won in 1992 because they remembered that George Bush (senior) did not know what a checkout scanner was and how much would a quart of milk cost.

And Obama is likely to win this time around because they will just mostly remember that thing about the dog on Mitt’s car roof, because it’s so hard to forget something like that.



  1. I am especially surprised that most Americans do not at least try to learn Spanish, a language which appears to be rather present over there. Several of my US friends are learning German, but Spanish? Maybe not exotic enough, who knows…


  2. The problem is that unless you travel south, Spanish is not very useful here.

    Which is of course also the problem with every other language.

    If you are for example Dutch, you’d better learn English and German.

    But if you are an American …………….


  3. @Diandra: I recall the idiotic pressure to learn Spanish when I was in school. I didn’t see the point then nor do I see the point now. I had less interest in talking to the gardener and far more in reading books and research articles in German, because it was clear to me that this language was far more relevant to my professional and personal interests. Later, a bit of Russian and some Japanese were added to the mix, because these are important languages for science and technology. And still people wondered why I didn’t learn Spanish. I think that language would be of damned little use to me here in Berlin….


  4. Which is not to say that Spanish is not a beautiful language, or a useful one, depending on where you live.

    I tried to learn Spanish after I moved to San Francisco, I went through about 20 lessons in a textbook, and I thought I would have an opportunity to start practicing the language at some point.

    A friend of mine once introduced me to a Mexican woman because she wanted to play a match maker, but she was not my type. And she spoke English, anyway.

    So I never learned Spanish. It is not a very useful language for a technical translator. In 25 years I was asked to translate a patent from Spanish about 5 or 6 times, and it is very easy to find translators for Spanish as there are quite a few technical translators who translate a number of Romance languages, including Spanish.

    Kevin, you would not believe how many kids here study Chinese. Most of them will never learn it, but still, I think it is a major change in the attitude of Americans towards languages.


  5. […] The man who put his dog on the roof of his car and drove with his dog on the roof to Canada lost election back in February of 2012. The man who […]


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