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November 28, 2020

Suddenly, Lingua Franca

Being a Russian weeb, I keep my hand on the pulse of two countries: Russia and Japan, and I noticed something interesting in recent years: a sharp uptick in English proficiency in both of them. This, oddly enough, coincides with a gradual decay of American influence in world affairs and the cancelation of English as one of the official languages of the Europe.

Of course, both countries made children learn English in school for decades, but it never led to a noticeable section of the population using it for anything. The fall of Soviet Union and "joint ventures" did practically nothing to change that in Russia. But, 30 years later — more than a generation later — it is common for Russians to link English-language media, even videos. This goes hand in hand with two other phenomena: shrill shrieks of ultra-patriots and an avalanche of English stems in everyday language (beyond "printer" and other legacy words).

Japanese trajectory was a little different. The massive acqusition of English stems happened much earlier, and it's normal for people to say "senks" instead of "arigatou". Members of game chat in of my gacha geimu would sometimes tell me not strain myself and just use English, "we all speak it, it's okay". But I thought it was just geeks. What clued me on the change was a significant increase in numbers of retail workers who spoke English. It happened on an identical schedule with Russia, almost overnight as these things go (starting in 2015 or so), and extended far into the cities that weren't known as tourist beacons, such as Nagoya.

In addition, there's a certain evidence that English is spreading around Pacific Rim. I saw Chinese and Thai tourists talking in English in Kyoto in 2019. Also, my wife visited Thailand and reported similar findings.

Not sure what to make of this all. Some observers in the U.S. expected Mandarin Chinese to spread in the region, and at times you hear recorded announcements in Japanese trains. But although many people say that it might be a good idea to learn Chinese, nobody actually uses it (except for narrow business uses, just like English in the 1970s). Certainly not in Russia! You'd think they'd learn German, but nope. The seemingly voluntary, grassroots raise of the interest in practical English, at times contrary to the official efforts, is what's most interesting to me.

UPDATE: In comments, Brickmuppet puts the start of the tide earlier: "I noted a vast improvement in english proficiency in the exchange students from Japan from about 2011 on." It took time for those students to grow up and enter the workforce.

Posted by: Pete Zaitcev at 03:54 PM | Comments (2) | Add Comment
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1 I noted a vast improvement in english proficiency in the exchange students from Japan from about 2011 on. I also noted that the last time I went to Japan there were many more people in retail who spoke english. 

Posted by: The Brickmuppet at November 28, 2020 08:33 PM (5iiQK)

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