Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Lingua Franca

The Politecnico di Milano is switching to English--much like last year's post about German universities offering courses in English.  I'm not sure how I feel about this trend.  As someone who loves foreign languages, I think it's very sad to see English become the lingua franca in business and higher ed--but obviously, as a native English speaker, I benefit personally from it.  Why did I bother taking all of those foreign language classes in high school & uni?  (p.s. this is why foreign language education in the US is suffering...some Americans don't feel there's a point anymore!)

The interesting part about this trend, though, is the element of competition that it's created for UK & US universities to continue attracting foreign students.  If they can get an English-language degree abroad where it costs less, then foreign students may stop being a 'cash cow' for US/UK universities.
I wonder how much the concept will catch on, though.  Immersion is an important part of language learning, and I can imagine it would be difficult to speak English during classes, Italian at shops and restaurants, and your native language with friends and family.  I just wonder how their language acquisition will be affected by the experience--will these international students gain fluency in 'international English' and limited Italian skills?   How will potential employers view these degrees?

And of course, there's the native English speaker audience to consider, as well. With the fees in the UK rising to £9,000 this year, and US tuition being as high as ever (a state university like University of Washington charges around £8,000 for state residents, and over £18,000 for out-of-state and international students), it's no wonder that some native English speakers are drawn to these programmes.  This article featured anecdotes from UK students who went to the continent for cheaper degrees and loved their time abroad.  For native English speakers, there's really no downside--their future employers will be impressed by a foreign degree and will assume that the student picked up a second language outside of the classroom.  It's a bit unfair, really, when you compare it to the reaction that non-native English speakers might encounter.

I'm interested in seeing where this goes--whether it's a blip or the way of the future, whether it will be limited to Europe or if it will become truly global, etc.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Jubilee Weekend

This weekend I tried Pimm's for the first time, in honour of the Diamond Jubilee.  It was ok--like a weak, slightly fizzy version of sangria--but more importantly, it's a traditional British summer drink (even if we did have to drink it indoors because the weather didn't cooperate).  We ate pub food and wore red, white & blue (might wear the same outfit for my 4th of July bbq next month...), and had a lovely time celebrating all things British.

During the Royal Wedding last year, I read a few pieces on how the Royal Wedding (and the monarchy more generally) played a role in Britain's public diplomacy.  This time around, I haven't seen much PD-related discussion about the Jubilee.  It certainly hasn't been the media event that the Royal Wedding was.  My family back in the States reported only seeing highlights and brief news clips (even on BBC America).   Compare that to last year, when my mom and other fans in the Pacific time zone woke up at 3 a.m. to catch Will & Kate's big day.  2 billion people tuned in--nearly 1 in 3 people on earth--and this year, the big screen in Leeds' Millennium Square wasn't even turned on to catch the Queen's balcony moment (pictured above).  Just in terms of its rarity, the Diamond Jubilee is a pretty big deal.  Britain hasn't had a monarch last for 60 years since Queen Victoria.  (by the way, the royal family's official website posted a great interactive 'scrapbook' recently about her Diamond Jubilee in 1897:  It's a rarer than a once-in-a-lifetime event--my great-grandma lived to be 102 and missed it by a few years on either side.  So why aren't more people interested?

My guess is that the Jubilee is more significant for the Queen's subjects in the UK & Commonwealth--and even there, you have some republicans who are against the monarchy--where as the Royal Wedding had a broader appeal.  Seeing an 86-year-old celebrate the fact she's still alive (much like a birthday) isn't really as compelling as watching a beautiful young couple get married.  The Diamond Jubilee doesn't have the same 'fairytale' factor that the wedding did--but it certainly does have the same merchandising, as witnessed in a Skipton shop window:

Keep Calm and Buy More Bunting
Since its appeal is limited to the Queen's subjects (and not even all of them), the Diamond Jubilee may simply have less potential as a PD tool than the Royal Wedding did.  Foreign audiences just don't appreciate the rain-soaked flotilla on the Thames the way that British nationals do. 
(The Daily Show was particularly harsh about it (mostly harsh about CNN's coverage): The Queen Who Stares at Boats - The Daily Show)