Chris Bryant (former British Minister for Europe): French is useless

Saturday, June 19, 2010

You can see a video of this here, plus articles here in English and here in French. According to him, more useful languages than French are Chinese (Mandarin/Putonghwa), Spanish, Portuguese, and Arabic.

His comments illustrate an interesting mistake people often make when ascertaining the economic value of a language: adding up the total economic clout of a language and then assuming that this then applies equally to one's own country. The other languages he mentions are certainly useful, but generally the most important criteria in determining the value of a language for a country is whether it's spoken by any of the countries next door. This is why Zambia for example has chosen to bring Portuguese into the curriculum, mostly because that's what its neighbors speak. It would have been a mistake for a minister there to conclude that Portuguese would be a useless choice because Spanish is spoken by so many more people, for example. In Britain's case as well French is spoken right next door:

Now, if he wanted to simply make the claim that French is over-emphasized, that may be true. But useless...then again, looking at the video it almost looks like he came up with the word on the spot. Somehow I doubt he would choose to use the same word in a written document.

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