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Frankly about lingua franca

Out of different practical reasons EP’s Facebook page similarly to this blog is being updated only in English (apart from casual insertions in other languages). Our fan community is continuously and quickly growing but how long can we justify our monolingual existence in the main social network of the world? And should we at all?

 
English has become a real lingua franca and without any doubt this provides many advantages, but aren’t we going against the principle of multilingualism and depriving some while giving advantages to others, especially if they represent a certain political wing? Aren’t we actually giving the floor and stage to, for example, British eurosceptics who can demonstrate all their eloquence here? And don’t we make look some genuinely clever people less educated because of their lacking language skills? It’s not the same to debate political issues as to comment on your latest pub experience. Besides, more than one-third of European adults aged 25 to 64 perceive that they do not know any foreign language. 
 
A menu in a restaurant in Vosges mountains

A menu in a restaurant in Vosges mountains

According to a Eurobarometer Survey (2006) 13% of EU citizens speak English as their native language. Another 38% of EU citizens state that they have sufficient skills in English to have a conversation. 77% of the EU citizens consider that children should learn English as their first foreign language. In 19 out of 29 countries polled, English is the most widely known language apart from the mother tongue, this being particularly the case in Sweden (89%), Malta (88%) and the Netherlands (87%). 
 
Even if you do get the meaning of our updates and the comments by other fans and can put a sentence together, it’s not the same as grasping all the subtleties of a debate and express yourself convincingly and with grace – this is something most of the people only can in their mother tongue(s). Not to mention the possibility to misunderstand something or to be misunderstood completely, thanks to e.g. the good old “false friends”.  
 
Interesting enough – most of our fans with a huge difference come from Italy, then followed in close distances by Romania, Bulgaria, Germany, Greece and Spain – countries, with exception of Germany, where, I would say, the use of English is not particularly prevalent and extensive. Italy is even one of the six Member States who had a majority of mono-linguists in 2006 (59 percent). 
 
All the EP’s information offices in the respective EU countries have a Facebook page, too, but isn’t it all about creating a common space for debate?
 
How far does our duty go to involve the citizens? You could argue that we are already pioneers by using the social media to ensure a dialogue with citizens, that it’s not a legal obligation, that it’s not so serious anyway, that in any case not all the people are willing to participate in open debates (although they might be more than willing to vote or express themselves in other anonymous ways), not everybody will want to sign up on Facebook to participate in the debates and so on. But still there is a little something in us that says: can’t we do better? 
 
It’s a tough nut for us to crack. We have tried a translation app called “Bing” from Facebook but for some reason it appears in only about half of the posts written in a foreign language, besides this is just a machine which makes lots of (often very funny) mistakes and which will need another 15-20 years to achieve acceptable degree of accuracy. To involve real translators would be too costly and time consuming. And would have to use English as a relay language anyway, otherwise we would have to cope 506 possible combinations of 23 official languages of the EU. And not everything is translatable! Volunteers, like this project conceived by Luis von Ahn?  (watch the TED video, it’s great) An excellent idea with a huge potential but who would be our volunteers and would it be quick enough for our debates and chats and also reliable?  So what is the solution? Is there any at all? Maybe we should forget about our concerns and see this as a tool for learning English? Whatever way we choose it’s hard to resist the magic of seeing Europeans discussing European issues and their personal experiences freely across the continent. 
 

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