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Flooded by English

by Jelena Madunić, teacher in the Foreign Languages School SOVA.COM, Split, Croatia


A bilingual fast-food restaurant sign in the very heart of Diocletian's palace, Split, Croatia


Have you had a cafe latté for breakfast? Have you checked your e-mail? Have you done your shopping? Been on a briefing session at work? Talked to your company manager or arranged an interview with someone from the marketing department? Have you heard any cool songs or used the f*** word when you accidentally spilled wine all over your favourite skirt?


I already know that!

Do you realize how much English you use in your native tongue? When I first meet a class of beginners at my school I usually ask them to remember and compile English words they use or come across in the everyday life. They always find this very easy and fun, and can easily produce more than 50 words in just a couple of minutes. They just take a look around them and start writing… a TV, a computer, a fax machine, mobile phone, markers,…  It seems to me that the list is getting longer every day. Naturally, linguistic experts have their own view on how harmful and/or beneficial is this fact for the language itself, especially if we are talking about smaller language communities with only a limited amount of speakers, e.g. Romanian or Croatian.


Can you speak the lingo?

Some areas are more affected then others – English is the language of business and commerce and IT everywhere in the world. Due to the rise of global media and the whole process of globalization in general, the English language has moved on and found its place on the streets and in the family homes of many non-speaking English countries. You can sit in a pub anywhere, in Bucharest, Zagreb, Poznan or London, listen to mainstream music during happy hour, drink a particular brand of beer and write an SMS to your friend, inviting him to a party. My mother tongue is different from Imre’s (Hungarian), Beatrice’s (Romanian) or Wojtek’s (Polish), but they all share this common feature. If you want to see how it works the other way around – check out the crossword with loan words that have entered English from other languages.


Europe: a language patchwork

Babel babble

There are approximately 230 different languages in Europe, belonging to a variety of language groups. Even though the EU only has 20 official languages, it already poses a problem, because of the lack of professional translators and the inefficiency of the available machine translation systems. It is both fascinating and frightening to see this beehive of languages swarming together, feeding off each other and absorbing words and meaning into each other's language. European languages quiz can be found here. However, a multilingual parliament is one thing and a multilingual country is something completely different…


Language jigsaw

As a result of moving borders and migrations there are so many areas in Europe that are bilingual or multilingual, which is not necessarily connected with ethnicity. For example, the whole of Istria, a part of the Republic of Croatia, is bilingual, Italian and Croatian having the same status. In some other coastal parts of the country a lot of Italian is used in the dialect as well. In the northern part of Croatia, however, the prevailing influence on the dialect was German language, making the two varieties very distinct and sometimes causing misunderstandings. While I was studying in another city, I used to have huge problems trying to explain to a shop assistant that I want a paper bag, or an onion, using a word from my dialect, because to me that expression was so normal and so everyday. You can find some examples and links to language jokes at ‘Language Jokes in the Classroom’. Using three different words to describe one thing can cause real communication problems, but it enriches the language and provides new tools for conveying different messages. Is it the same thing with English words and expressions that have entered our language(s)? Should we fear this influence and see it as a threat or just accept it as a normal stage in the life of a language?

As for me, I like the mix – my summer imagery is billboards in Czech, adverts in German, menus in French and flyers in English; my summer soundtrack is Italian exclamations, news in Polish, Hungarian chatter and Spanish songs.And it makes me feel as if I am more a citizen of Europe, more a citizen of the world.



Points for discussion


  1. Think of at least three different topics (e.g. media, information technology, business) and think of why and to what extent these areas are linguistically influenced by the English language. Make a list of English words that are commonly used by teenagers, businessman, journalists, politicians, etc.
  1. Do you agree or disagree with the following statements:

·         The influence of other languages on one’s native language should be controlled, and native language counterparts should be used in all possible situations

·         One’s language cannot be isolated and separated from the influence of other languages


3.    Give examples of the influence of other languages on your native language (dialects, vocabulary, jargon used in specific fields)


4.    Some English words have their counterpart in a native language, but some cannot be translated without losing meaning. Do you try and use your native language expressions, or the English ones?


“I have a prejudice against people who print things in a foreign language and add no translation. When I am the reader, and the other considers me able to do the translating myself, he pays me the quite a nice compliment-- but if he would do the translating for me I would try to get along without the compliment.”

(Mark Twain; from A Tramp Abroad, 1880)



Recommended links


§         September 26th is the European Day of Languages. If you want to find out more about this Council of Europe project, visit this site

§         In his article “The Language Revolution” a well-known British linguist David Crystal explores language and identity

§         A number of very stimulating multilingual classroom activities can be found in the Multilingual World issue

§         Universal Declaration of Linguistic Rights, initiated by the PEN and supported by  UNESCO

§         World Wide Words, a site by etymologist Michael Quinion explores global English from a British viewpoint

§         A very comprehensive BBC Education site where you can explore the language family tree and hear some words in each language

§         An interesting article about the EU Babel tower

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