The Instigator
dappleshade
Pro (for)
Winning
10 Points
The Contender
Chamaeleon
Con (against)
Losing
0 Points

Everyone who speaks English as a first language should try to learn a second language.

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Post Voting Period
The voting period for this debate has ended.
after 2 votes the winner is...
dappleshade
Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 9/19/2011 Category: Education
Updated: 5 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 2,065 times Debate No: 18388
Debate Rounds (4)
Comments (10)
Votes (2)

 

dappleshade

Pro

Rounds

Round 1: Acceptance and definitions if required
Round 2: Opening arguments/Rebuttals
Round 3: Rebuttals/Responses
Round 4: Closing, no new arguments

It is Pro's contention that the English-speaking world assumes English to be the default language for communication - both verbally and via the internet - and thus neglects the learning of other languages. Pro shall argue that ignorance of other languages has a negative impact on society and that learning other languages confers a positive impact. Con may argue that this has no impact or a reversed impact, and/or challenge the opening contention.
Chamaeleon

Con

An intriguing debate. I'm glad you posted it.

I have one clarification to ask about: you stipulate that con must argue that learning other langauges besides english is detrimental or has no impact. May I argue that it has an impact, but that the negative impact is outweighed by the positive? If so, I accept and look forward to a productive debate.
Debate Round No. 1
dappleshade

Pro

I'd certainly be satisfied with a counter-argument that it has an impact, but that the negative impact is outweighed by the positive. Thank you very much for accepting and I also look forward to a fun, interesting and enlightening debate.

To contend that the English-speaking world assumes English to be the default language for communication requires evidence to support it. When I refer to the 'English-speaking world', I speak of the nations for whom English is a de facto rather than de jure language (http://en.wikipedia.org...); primarily the U.S., the U.K, Australia, and New Zealand.

According to the Washington Post who posted a survey by National Geographic, nearly half of Americans between 18 and 24 do not think it is necessary to know the location of foreign countries in which important news is being made. Over a third consider it 'not important at all' to learn a second language and only 14% consider it important(http://kojioe.wordpress.com...). President Obama has confessed to not knowing a second language, admitting it is 'embarrassing', especially in the wake of the insistence that immigrants to the U.S. must know English. (http://www.cbsnews.com...). And U.S. linguists are insistent that public awareness must be raised now if the U.S. is to maintain any advantage in the wake of globalisation, insisting that the U.S. 'lags behind' (http://news.stanford.edu...). And the NEA is clear on the fact that global competence, including cultural aspects as well as language learning, is a national imperative (http://www.nea.org...). The national learning of foreign languages has fallen drastically since a mere decade ago (http://www.itbusinessedge.com...).

The situation is even worse in the U.K. The European Parliament has stated that the U.K. is becoming underrepresented in European institutions due to poor language skills (http://www.bbc.co.uk...). The U.K. too, then, is losing it's economic and business edge due to incompetence in linguistics (http://www.guardian.co.uk...). This would be of course because the study of a foreign language at G.C.S.E. level is no longer compulsory (http://www.uiclondon.com...), leading to what is described as a 'language crisis' (http://www.independent.co.uk...).

Just 14% of high school students in Australia leave with an accredited foreign-language qualification (http://www.dfat.gov.au...) and the study of foreign languages is again optional, as it is in New Zealand (http://www.ambafrance-nz.org...).

So is the situation so dire? After all, most people speak English as a second language anyway, right? Wrong. Actually, even the best estimates put it at 27% at the outside, dependent on estimates of global population (http://en.wikipedia.org...). That's three quarters of the people of the world that a person without a second language can't communicate with. Only 35% of internet users primarily speak English and yet over 66% of the world's population is bilingual (http://www.utm.edu...).

That's all right though, because English will become more predominant, right? Wrong. Actually, English is in decline as a world language (http://news.nationalgeographic.com...).

Does it matter that we don't learn second languages? After all, we can always use Babelfish or some other translator, right?

Well, the first argument against this is of course the economic and employment argument that was already repeatedly referenced earlier. At the end of the day, if a potential employer in a global company has the ability to choose between two people equally qualified for a position, but one also speaks a second language (thus being able to translate company documents, etc, etc) it is the latter who will be picked. Moreover, in any multinational business transaction the insensitive, rude foreigners who don't bother to learn another language will be more likely to lose out against the more cultured foreigners who at least make a passable attempt. The only way this can be overcome is via an assumption that an English speaker will remain on English-speaking shores, which is no longer a viable assumption in the modern age. (http://www.utm.edu...)

The next argument is that of monoculturalism, and as part of that the problem of cultural ignorance. It is surely important to get along with others wherever they are in the world. Yet many people who do not speak English or do not speak it as a first language believe that speakers of English are often arrogant with respects to the superiority of their own language and condescending towards those who do not speak it or share their culture, such that even the President has conceded the existence of 'American arrogance' (http://www.telegraph.co.uk...). The failure to appreciate another language is a part of this; after all, what defines another country's culture more than the way in which they speak and think, and to learn another's culture is to gain an appreciation of it.

Let us not omit the phenomenal educational and intellectual benefits to the study of second languages which are neglected as a result of this neglect. Learning a second language helps improve ACT scores. Improving linguistic skills also improves academic capacity in general, including in entirely unrelated subjects such as mathematics. It may delay the onset of diseases such as Alzheimer's disease and aids concentration. (http://www.utm.edu...)

Last but not least, the learning of foreign languages may prove vital to national security. The language crisis has been specifically stated to have negatively impacted the 'War on Terror' (http://www.eisenhowerinstitute.org...).

So how, with all these benefits, could it possibly be better to fail to learn foreign languages? Cost has been cited as one difficulty; difficulty in learning another. Yet cost in the post-recession climate no longer holds true if English-speakers are to remain competitive in business; and with 66% of the world population bilingual, there is no excuse for not being 'able' to speak another language (http://www.telegraph.co.uk...).

To conclude, then; there are massive economic benefits to be had by the learning of foreign languages. The learning of a foreign language also constitutes an improvement in interpersonal skills at a global level. The neglect of the study of foreign languages negatively impacts the intelligence of society as a whole; and the improved understanding of language enables better communication of concepts between nationals. If concepts such as equality, justice and liberty are to be disseminated into a wider world at large, this will surely be done more effectively if not attempted in a Very Loud Voice In English.
Chamaeleon

Con

Hello to you Dappleshade, and hello to other readers. I thank you all for your time and I will try to make good use of it. First of all, I know it will be automatic for many of you to feel dissatisfied with the con position in this argument because English may not be your first language or because your life has personally benefited from the knowledge and use of other languages. As a speaker and reader of several languages myself, I am thoroughly sympathetic to this point of view. So why, you ask, if I have bothered to learn other languages, would I argue against the very thing? The reasons are several, and I will begin my half of the debate by elaborating on some of them here.

It will be helpful for you to understand my own motivation for learning more than one language myself. My first solid exposure to a second language was French, which I studied for several years in elementary school and again in high school, mostly because it was one of the few languages available to me and because girls found it romantic, lol. I never quite became fluent in it, but I am conversational. In college I took Italian until I was fluent, as I am Italian and thought it a fitting study of heritage, and also Bengali and Hindi when I met an Indian girl that I was enamoured with for the next decade. I am not verbally fluent in either of the latter two, but I am conversational and have learned to read and write both scripts because of an interest in India's rich philosophical and literary culture. I also developed curiosities for Latin and Brahmi, as I am fond of ancient histories and they are the historical antecedents to the Italian and Bengali that I was already learning. Finally, I have been learning Japanese simply from watching lots of anime shows for so many years, and I have tried to learn some Mandarin but have honestly found it quite difficult compared to the other languages I have studied.

You can tell from my introduction that I am not against learning more than one language because I have intolerance or ignorance of the subject. On the contrary, I am a curious explorer of world cultures and a fervent proponent of open communication between all its peoples. And therein lies my real motivation for opposing the idea of learning more than one language - communication. The fact that I am against learning a language other than English is only a result of its current scientific, legal and multi-national significance. I actually have no preference for English itself, as I think there are other languages more pleasing to the eyes and ears. Had we debated the topic in another age, I might have been a proponent of Arabic or Sanskrit. But right now, English is the primary language of education and commerce around the world (sources backing this assertion are sprinkled throughout the following paragraphs).

After checking many sources for the number of languages currently in existence, I found that almost every one of them ends up citing ethnologue.com and its current figure of 6,909 individual dialects (1). You read that right, there are nearly seven thousand languages currently in existence, roughly one per million of us. The way humans learn right now, no one would ever be able to master enough languages to be able to communicate with even a simple majority of the world's population. The most common native language is Mandarin, so you might think I would argue for learning that, but it's geographic distribution is vastly ethnocentric to China, and has relatively little permeation into the rest of the world, as compared to English (2). Figures on the total number of English speakers vary widely according to source, but generally range from around 500 million to nearly 2 billion, eclipsing Mandarin as the most spoken language when including non-native speakers, which is very important because it highlights the penetration of the English language into other countries around the world (3). In fact, over 50 countries use English as an official or de facto language, compared to only three for Mandarin (4, 5). Moreover, Mandarin is a Sino-Tibetan language, whereas 6 of the next 7 most common languages in the world are Indo-European (7). One of the primary difficulties to learning a language is its similarity to your own, so it would be far more laborious for the rest of the world to learn Mandarin than for the Chinese to learn English.

But so what? Just because one is more popular doesn't mean we shouldn't learn another, right? Well, I think 'wrong,' and here's why. We are in the information age, and humans are engaged in a losing battle with information overload. It has been asserted by quite a few studies that humans are approaching the limit of their intellectual capacity (6). We can't just keep cramming more information into our skulls without figuring out some way to do it more efficiently and effectively, which means that learning additionally languages is currently at the expense of other learning.

My introductory argument has become long-winded and I do not wish to alienate the readers with my verbosity, so I will save the rest of it for my next round. There, I will elaborate on the prevalence of English in literature and on the internet (our greatest tool of communication since the printing press, also coincidentally invented in an English-speaking country). I will also comment on why current progress with translation programs will soon make it entirely unnecessary to speak the same language in order to communicate, and why we will get to that point faster if we don't spend our time learning other languages in the interim.

1. http://www.ethnologue.com...
2. http://www.ethnologue.com...
3. http://en.wikipedia.org...
4. http://en.wikipedia.org...
5 http://wiki.answers.com...
6. http://www.dailymail.co.uk...
7. http://en.wikipedia.org...
Debate Round No. 2
dappleshade

Pro

My opponent makes some excellent arguments, which I shall endeavour to refute as follows.

Firstly, though not contesting the vast number of languages that are available to learn, my opponent concludes that humans are 'engaged in a losing battle with information overload'. In the previous round I showed studies that conclusively showed that the learning of a second language assists with learniing in general, effectively acting as a 'compressor algorithm' to enable the human mind to learn and sort information more efficiently. Learning a second language therefore is beneficial, rather than detrimental, to the case of information overload.

Whilst English is currently most popular, as was also covered in my previous round, the current trend is moving toward it being less so. Moreover, the use of English as a lingua franca between nations does not in any way defeat the cultural or intellectual benefits of a second language; nor does the existence of translators, which, by all accounts, still have a long way to go before they can effectively process accent, voice and speed of conversation (http://www.dailymail.co.uk...). Even should they become widely available, the effort made in learning another language will still be worth it through the improved mental efficiency and also through it's combat of the underlying attitude involving avoiding effort that proves so deleterious to society at large.

I shall await my opponent's further arguments with interest.
Chamaeleon

Con

Okay, I'm going to skip the factorial about use of the English language in literature and on the internet. Suffice it to say that English comprises a significant majority of the literature in the world, and of the content online. Really, do I need to source that assertion for anyone? The fact that it's such common knowledge is testament to how overwhelming the use of English is around the world. And again, I'm not lauding English as a superior language. It's only a coincidence of the timing of this debate that English is the language of predominant use. As you mentioned, Dappleshade, English proliferation has undergone a decline over the last few decades, and with the American and British economies suffering as they are, that only stands to worsen in the decades that ensue. But for English to be ousted as the dominant language, it would take more than a few decades of decline in the countries that use it. And a few decades is more time than we have to worry about learning other languages. Check this out!

Today I read two articles that filled me with a long-awaited elation: one was about an interface device that is able to turn human thought into moving images on a screen (1). Yes, really! Another was about the invention of contact lenses with a built-in heads up display (2). Say goodbye to computer screens and the almighty television. Who would buy those clunky hunks of junk when they could slip in a corrective lens that displays images right in front of their eyes, no matter where they're looking? No one, that's who. And who would bother to spend hundreds of dollars, as well as hundreds of hours of study time learning another language, when the essential information could be downloaded directly into your brain? Yeah...no one. Can we do that yet? No, but now that we can extract images from a brain, how long do you think it will be before we can put images, and sounds, and whatever else <i>in</i>? A few years is my guess. And to make that time shorter, the technology needs investors, and people who are interested enough to learn about it, not people with their noses stuck in language books, muttering mispronounced French under their breath until it sinks in.

And those inventions aren't just isolated flukes in the beginning stages of development. Look at the latest humanoid robots (3), at the robot competing in this year's Iron Man competition (4), and the robot nominated to carry an Olympic torch (5). Look at how algorithm's are becoming advanced enough to replace thousands of floor traders in stock markets around the world (6), farmers in their tractors (7), and diagnosticians in hospitals (8). Look at how close scientists are to being able to interpret your thoughts, word-for-word (9), and use your thoughts to control computers (10). Don't you think that will make it a lot easier to learn a language?

So, in short, spend your time learning about CHI (that's my own catchy acronym for Computer Human Interface) instead of learning another language. Learn some programming code so that you can help improve the translators that will inevitably take over the human task of converting data from English into other languages, and vice versa. Once we have programs that can do it more effectively, the speed with which that feat is accomplished will dwarf the rate of human translators. Then, go ahead and learn 100 languages if you want! You could never learn that many as a mere human, but as a cybernetic human your capacity will be exponentially augmented. Learning a hundred languages will become something you do to kill an afternoon, not something which an entire devoted lifetime could still fail to accomplish.

Or, keep wasting your time learning languages through reading and repetition. By the time you've become fluent in one of them, the technology will be here to allow you to become fluent in all of them, and in much less time than it took to learn the one you're on now. And then apologize to your kids for how long that technology took to get here because you and thousands of other people in your generation were busy learning Esperanto.


1. http://news.cnet.com...
2. http://www.extremetech.com...
3. http://www.kurzweilai.net...
4. http://www.huffingtonpost.com...
5. http://www.newscientist.com...
6. http://www.physorg.com...
7. http://www.readwriteweb.com...
8. http://www.nerve.com...
9. http://www.sciencedaily.com...
10. http://robots.net...
Debate Round No. 3
dappleshade

Pro

Reading through the articles with interest, I immediately caught several points. Firstly, your source (1) was about turning human senses into moving images, not 'thought'. Your statement that 'surely we can put images (...) in' is a little optimistic, perhaps mislead by the phrasing of the article.

The technology is measuring what is seen by the eye, via the blood supply visual cortex, not the brain's internally generated imagery. Much like putting another screen or a tap between the computer tower and your desk monitor, the images recieved are when the visual cortex is directly stimulated by input from the eye. However, you can't put images into your computer through an intermediate monitor. Scientists are still not even sure when internal imagery is located in the brain (http://en.wikipedia.org...). In terms of putting visual images into the visual cortex, it would be an interesting development but would better be likened to TV without the involvement of the eye. Certainly not offering the capacity for improved linguistics.

Similarly, the existence of source (2) built-in HUD which would be very similar does not in fact equal the capacity to 'download the information directly into your brain'. You could download a text translator and read it. The nuances of phonetics, accent, tonality? That, as my previous source showed, is definitely not available yet.

Your statement 'technology needs investors, and people who are interested enough to learn about it, not people with their noses stuck in language books, muttering mispronounced French under their breath until it sinks in.' is not only a little offensively phrased, but rather ridiculous. Imaging technology is not language technology; how do you get linguistic technology without the involvement of linguists?

Your sources (4), (5), (6), (7) (8) and (10) are actually all superfluous to the debate at hand. No matter how pretty or good at running the robot, it's not a linguist. Nor does the impressive capacity of powerful algorithms relate to linguistics except to conclude that it will eventually be possible, as my previous source already covered (http://www.dailymail.co.uk......). Finally, the possibility of algorithms taking over so many critical tasks opens up an entirely new vista of debate, one that I have great interest in but which is mostly beyond the scope of this debate.

A point, however; if algorithms replace humans in many industries, humans will end up primarily in service industries if not involved in research; their main saleable commodity will be their humanity. Their prospects in such a world will be greatly enhanced by the knowledge of another language; they will be able to compete with technology by offering the comfort of a real human being speaking to the customer in their mother tongue.

So, going with (9). The study showed that it is possible to interpret word group, not word. Let's face it; you've seen an MRI scanner, right? (http://en.wikipedia.org...) It's going to be a long time before we have that technology altered such that we're walking around with a miniature virtual translator stuck to our heads.

Perhaps the most critical argument in this specific rebuttal is this; if you want to have better programmers with better programming skills as well as overall concentration and general mental capacity to make the technology we need ...well, they'll do vastly better at the task if they learned another language first. The information scientist who learns a second language improves their mathematics, their capacity for logic, their memory and their concentration, and his overall performance in many areas. So not really superfluous or wasteful as has been made out.

Literature has barely been covered by our debate, but I would contend that the vast proportion of literature is not in fact in English, and that to learn literature in it's own language is to encompass a wider scope of understanding, not least beause many words are untranslatable into other languages as concepts.

To conclude then. English is likely going to cease to be a dominant language over the next few decades. Learning a language is beneficial; conversely, failing to learn a language is deterimental, both economically, and intellectually as we fail to enhance our mental capacity. Learning a foreign language elicits appreciation from the speaker of another language, improves cultural dialogue and the value placed on culture. The mental benefits are phenomenal and undeniable; unless we are proponents of ignorance and diminishing intellectual capacity, we must conclude that the learning of at least one foreign language should be a necessary study and will certainly not contribute to 'information overload'. It will in fact improve the situation.

Technology has a long way to go before it can translate spoken language. Even when perfect translators eventually come about, the human mind will still perform better having learned another language, and therefore be better able to create further advances in all areas of science in the process. And let's not forget - learning another language may prove critical in a future economy in which algorithms and robots replace the bulk of human employment.
Chamaeleon

Con

Chamaeleon forfeited this round.
Debate Round No. 4
10 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 10 records.
Posted by dappleshade 5 years ago
dappleshade
Switch memories already present on and off, you mean! It was a good debate, and the tech sources were interesting to read.
Posted by Chamaeleon 5 years ago
Chamaeleon
Sorry I had to forfeit the last round. I said most of what I wanted to say anyway, so it was a solid debate. Oh and by the way, I was wrong about how long it would take to be able to put information into a brain. I said a few years, but it has already been done: http://scopeblog.stanford.edu...

The article arrived just after I linked you to the article about only removing memories, but now we can apparently put them back in as well. Say hello to a multi-liguistic future with minimal learning time! Put some effot and money into it and the process will be commercially available before you can master your next language in the old-fashioned way. Or, keep trying to memorize those conjugations :-(
Posted by F-16_Fighting_Falcon 5 years ago
F-16_Fighting_Falcon
Randolph, this was well argued for 3 rounds. You gave 7 points just because of a forfeit in the final round?
Posted by Chamaeleon 5 years ago
Chamaeleon
no im just kidding. You wrote a solid first argument. I'm trying to write a thorough introduction to my own side, so I won't post it until tomorrow.
Posted by dappleshade 5 years ago
dappleshade
Sorry! :(
Posted by Chamaeleon 5 years ago
Chamaeleon
oh my god, you wrote a book. at least you wrote it in english, lol.
Posted by dappleshade 5 years ago
dappleshade
And already I'm in a mire. Going b (http://en.wikipedia.org...), I was intending to refer to the list of de facto countries. I'd probably also include the non-sovereign entities. Is that acceptable?
Posted by F-16_Fighting_Falcon 5 years ago
F-16_Fighting_Falcon
Oh, ok. I just saw that you are from the UK. Are you referring to any country in particular? This could prove decisive when you need to collect data and statistics to find out what percentage of people speak english etc.
Posted by F-16_Fighting_Falcon 5 years ago
F-16_Fighting_Falcon
Are you referring to the United States in particular? Can con argue that it needs to be a choice, not mandated that everyone should learn another language?
Posted by dappleshade 5 years ago
dappleshade
Go easy on me, I'm new!

If any of this doesn't make sense or requires editing for clarification, please comment and I'll try to fix it here :)
2 votes have been placed for this debate. Showing 1 through 2 records.
Vote Placed by F-16_Fighting_Falcon 5 years ago
F-16_Fighting_Falcon
dappleshadeChamaeleonTied
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Total points awarded:30 
Reasons for voting decision: Con's argument about information overload was far-fetched and well refuted by Pro who showed that it is actually the other way around, that learning a new language enhances knowledge. All other points made by Con are actually for the Pro side.
Vote Placed by randolph7 5 years ago
randolph7
dappleshadeChamaeleonTied
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Total points awarded:70 
Reasons for voting decision: Forfeit.