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Linguisitically Speaking, Are Americans Arrogant?


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I am sorry to say, I think we are. We expect the rest of the world to learn English to communicate with us and until rather recently, we did not go out of our way to learn the language of others. Now that we do business internationally, there has been a push to learn other languages, languages we do business with.

Whatever the reason, I think it's good. Personally, I have to 'walk the walk' and choose my language!

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As an American, I would have to acknowledge that yes, there is that tendency towards linguistic arrogance.  While it is not true of everyone, it is a pervasive attitude in American culture and society.  Collectively, we Americans take it for granted knowing English and expect the rest of the world to learn the language.  And to top it off, there are some Americans who complain if people speak English with an accent!

Yet on the other hand, language study in the school system has not gone by the wayside.  It never did.  I first studied languages in high school -- Spanish -- and continued in college.  Along the way I have always met and interacted with Americans who had a passion for languages and for communicating with others and learning of their culture.  In other words, they were not just strictly motivated by pragmatic business purposes. 

And, as you note, more and more Americans are coming to realize the advantage of knowing other languages for business.  I'm very glad to see this trend! 

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I'm not an American, so it might sound a bit mean coming from me, but God, they are. Not all of them, obviously, but there is a tendency.

They think everybody should speak English and they don't want to learn any other languages because they see no reason. While English is indeed the lingua franca, it doesn't excuse some ignorant behaviors.

I've also heard a lot of really weird and misguided opinions about languages from Americans: that English is the most difficult language in the world (is that an attempt to make themselves look smarter or what? I really don't understand this one), that it's impossible for a non-Asian person to become fluent in an Asian language, that Polish is so complicated that it takes Polish kids six years before they can use correct grammar (!!!)...

I know that there are people holding these kinds of opinions everywhere, but I think that USA in particular has really bad way of teaching people about languages. Many Americans I've encountered seem to think that knowing a foreign language is just knowing enough phrases and vocabulary. I think the problem is not exactly with people themselves, but with bad education system that is very USA-centric and kind of presents other countries as less important.

Conservative Americans are getting angry because immigrants speak their language in public and want their children to have access to education in their own language if possible. They dislike the bilingual road signs and other things like that. For me, this is a sign of being extremely close-minded.

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I think yes and no.  I'm not sure it is that we have an 'expectation' that others learn our language so much as it is that we grow up knowing, as a truth, that others do speak our language and that we can 'get by' with English most places we travel.  I have never (personally) seen an American upset or outraged that someone in a different country didn't speak English, though. THey sually just move on and try someone else.

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I can't speak for Americans, living in Canada and all. I know in Canada, you will not need to know any French unless you are east of Ontario.

That being said, I live in Vancouver, where the greater metropolitan area has several large ethnic communities where a person could theoretically live their entire life there without learning the national languages. Chinatown is a good example.

I know it is popular opinion of many Canadian citizens that learning English should be mandatory, but I don't find that arrogant. It would make the lives of the immigrants a lot easier, and they can function beyond their ethnic niches in society.

Personally I don't think it should be a requirement, there are many immigrants who needed to escape their situation and didn't have time to learn a whole language. However, once they get to a new country, they would be narrowing their opportunities at success if they didn't at least consider it.

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I personally think that Americans, like all nations have a wide spectrum of attitudes and cultural mores so it would be difficult to say that all Americans are linguistically arrogant. There are some Americans who live in Texas and California who are very fluent in Spanish and are interested to maintain their fluency. There are also many Americans who are not interested in learning foreign languages at all and would be flummoxed to find themselves in a foreign environment.

It's all subjective and really depends on the individual.

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You guys are really lucky. You don't need to learn other languages if you don't want to. But in countries like India, you have to learn your own native language, your national language and thereafter the English language to be successful in any area.

So it's obvious that you people will be a little bit arrogant and want everyone to speak your language as it's the language which connects everyone from all across the globe.

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One of the ways I think Americans are particularly arrogant when it comes to language-learning is that they very will VERY freely say "he doesn't speak English well" about nonnative speakers, even those that actually do speak English VERY well.  It's like, they make the assumption that just because someone has a strong accent, or even misuses grammar occasionally, that means he doesn't speak English well.  In reality, that non-native English speaker has the ability to communicate complex information, and quite easily-- which in my opinion, counts as speaking a language.

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Americans may well be guilty, but they caught it of course from the British who as colonists just walked into countries and demanded that the inhabitants start to speak English. The French did it too of course, and the Spanish ..... maybe this arrogance is linked to something deeper.

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Americans are not so much linguistically arrogant as isolated.

You can go from coast to coast in the U.S. and find English spoken everywhere.

In Europe, you can't go very far speaking one language.

Of course, this will be true soon in the U.S. as well.

In some U.S. schools, kids have a chance to learn Japanese, Chinese, and Italian along with French and Spanish.

Maybe this is a sign that linguistic arrogance is on its way out.

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  • 2 weeks later...

The United States is made up of a lot of different people, of man ethnic and language backgrounds. Some people are arrogant about the English language, but I've seen that in other countries with other languages.

I'm from the Unites States and I can say that the language arrogance for the most part generally only extends to America in a sense that large numbers of people here want everyone that comes here to at least be able to speak English. We're one of the largest countries in terms of land mass in the world. There are three main languages in the nearby area, and English is the most commonly spoken. Next is Spanish, and then comes french. A few asian languages and a smattering of German pop up now and then. We don't have much competition for the English language in the area and so it is the most commonly spoken language.

Just as many people in other countries snort when an 'arrogant American tourist' comes to their country and does not know how to speak the local language, some Americans will get annoyed that people from outside the country don't learn basic English. However, we don't have a national language, and we do make an effort to place multiple languages on important things such as signs and instruction manuals.

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I am sorry to say, I think we are. We expect the rest of the world to learn English to communicate with us and until rather recently, we did not go out of our way to learn the language of others. Now that we do business internationally, there has been a push to learn other languages, languages we do business with.

Whatever the reason, I think it's good. Personally, I have to 'walk the walk' and choose my language!

I would not really call them arrogant but just more of straightforward.  I think that's how Americans are really brought up.  They are trained to just speak their minds and that's not always necessarily equivalent to arrogance.

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You guys are really lucky. You don't need to learn other languages if you don't want to. But in countries like India, you have to learn your own native language, your national language and thereafter the English language to be successful in any area.

So it's obvious that you people will be a little bit arrogant and want everyone to speak your language as it's the language which connects everyone from all across the globe.

English is not from America, rather, it's origins are from Germanic tribes that settled in England during the 5th century AD. How English became the universal language was a process that took hundreds of years, and was established long before America was discovered by Columbus.

I don't look at it as arrogance but just a result of past British world dominance and current American world dominance.

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More like ignorance in my opinion. I've noticed that Americans do not understand that everyone is different. It's honestly insane that they get mad that they can't understand you. Oh, and then they think  because we both live in America, that we are forced to speak English. I don't know if any of you have noticed, America still has huge racial problems. There are still many instances where people get discriminated due to the color of their skin.

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I do agree with you to a point, but I also, as an individual, would not expect people in another country THAT I CHOSE TO GO TO, to accomodate me by speaking my own language. I would take the responsibliy to learn the language of the area I am visiting. I hold the same standards for others, for the most part.

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I am not sure I would call in arrogance. For the most part it is not built into our educational system and for the most part it is not necessary. When you live in Europe, each country is like a state in the US with regard to size and geography. I live in North Carolina and if traveling to South Carolina or Virginia meant speaking another language I would have a much greater motivation to learn a second language. In many countries, as it has been mentioned, their is a local language and a national language taught in all schools. In the US we have a different culture.

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I think not only are some of us arrogant, but we are ignorant of the world around us. And as a polyglot, someone who is appreciative of other cultures, I am ridiculed by others for by knowledge.

I would also hasten to point out that many Americans are curious about the world around them, and anxious to learn culture and language, so you cannot generalize.

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If Americans are arrogant, linguistically speaking, so are other people of different nationalities. It can be of varying degrees, but even in the Philippines, people can make fun of others who tend to speak Tagalog in a visayan kind of way.

Personally, there are arrogant Americans who I have talked to in customer service but I think it's more of their personality than their language. I've learned not to really judge them back because every country will have their idiots, it's not an isolated thing.

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America may be a melting pot, but I see in industry and business the bias towards the English language.  There are some cracks in that wall as I was surprised to learn a neighbor child (elementary) was studying Spanish and Chinese.  "Chinese???" I asked and was told by the precocious little girl "when I am your age, I will need it in business".  I was floored.

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  • 1 month later...

What I have seen is that American native speakers do not only laugh of non-Americans who make grammar mistakes or language pitfalls, but also they do hurting criticism rather than helping such people pointing at what their mistakes are.

This is really sad because Americans seems to be the only who act this way!

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