English: yes! English: No!

There is a big article in today's Dagens Nyheter: Språkexperter räds svengelskan. The worry is that since much university-level education is given in English, neither teachers nor students will perform at their best. The final paragraph, a quote from Sven Halldin, professor of hydrology, is probably the most stupid thing I've read all this week:

När vi inte längre har terminologin på svenska, ska hela skolvärlden gå över till engelska då? Det ger en mycket större grogrund för främlingsfientlighet.

The logical implication that speaking a foreign language makes you burn down mosques is not clear to me. Rather my bullshit heuristics indicate that when someone claims X will cause xenophobia it usually means “I'm xenophobic and I'm opposed to X”.

I can agree with the point that neither teachers nor students in general manage English particularly well and I'm certain this does mean that education is not performed at maximum efficiency, but the conclusions I draw from that are different: English is the lingua franca of science today—it used to be Latin, in fifty years it may be Mandarin, the particular language is not important but it is clearly impossible to translate everything into every other language, so some common language must be used. The Bologna process aims to increase movement between European universities. I do not agree with the means to achieve this increased mobility*, but I definitely embrace mobility. This means there (hopefully) will be increasingly more non-Swedish-speaking students at Swedish universities. Now, what will most decrease education efficiency: that both Swedish-speaking and non-Swedish-speaking students will be taught in English which they hopefully have some ten to fifteen years of experience in, or that the non-Swedish-speaking students are taught in Swedish, of which they typically have just a few months of experience?

I think the course is clear: If Swedish university students do not understand English well enough, they need more of it, preferrably as early as possible in school.

This does not mean I think English should be used on every occasion and another article in the same issue of DN shows an example, a drawing by Auguste Rodin, titled “Charity”. The article is written in Swedish and Rodin probably only spoke French, so either of the titles ”Barmhärtighet” or « Charité » would have made more sense, but the journalist just lazily copied whatever the English-language catalogue said. This is all too common in newspapers, news are copied from English-language sources and names and quotes are given in English, even thought the correct thing to do would be to give them in the native language or with an approriate Swedish translation. A former editor of Numero used to end all issues with a supposedly witty and/or thoughtful quote from some authority—you know the kind that pesters almanacs and such. Clearly these had been cribbed from some English-language site and it truly jarred one's mind to find that Déscartes, Julius Cæsar or Ibsen had said such-and-such in English. That's so lazy it's despicable.

*In my opinion one of the main points of mobility is that it would allow universities to specialise more and students move between them to learn from the best experts in a particular subject; instead what the Bologna process seems to aim at is to make all universities alike, so that it doesn't matter where you are and your choice of university would be based on whether you like to go swimming or skiing in your free time. That's just plain stupid.

No comments: