I came across a video of one former English-Premiership footballer interviewing another. On Twitter, I think. And for some reason I stopped to listen to a little of it.
The interview consisted of rapid-fire questions, framed as choices between two options. One such choice was between speaking another language, and being able to speak to animals (of course, strictly, we can all speak to animals whenever we want, and I recommend it, but it’s safe to assume they meant the ability to have mutual communication with animals).
Now, I found this choice very odd. Yes, both are generally related to language, but they’re hardly equivalents, are they? One is something quite fantastic and impossible, apart from maybe in the future when technological advances allow for some form of communication beyond merely spoken and written language. And the other is something that’s not altogether difficult at all to do, and is actively achieved by millions of people around the world.
I really did find it odd that the idea of speaking a second language could be compared to speaking to animals. But then obviously I don’t have the same perspective as these two ex-footballers. Even forgetting my own language-learning adventures, I work in the English-language-teaching industry, so I’m surrounded on a daily basis by people learning English, many of whom have experience learning other languages.
But of course I know that such an experience is not typical for most English speakers. Most of us don’t ever really need to learn another language, and even if we find ourselves in a situation where it would make sense to do so, such as working in or retiring to another country, sadly, not everyone will commit fully to learning that other language, knowing that lots of people nearby might speak English quite well.
So yes, I do understand why speaking a second language and having a chat with your dog might seem equally fantastical to these two gentlemen. Still, it’s a little sad to think that for some people, the idea of learning another language will always be a complete fantasy.