When your own native language is a world lingua franca you are clearly in an advantaged position, but let’s examine the extent of this advantage, and what it means for people whose native language is not English.
Let’s start with obvious facts: If you are a native English speaker you have access to the greatest and broadest selection of literature in all fields, especially in science. You don’t have to make an effort to learn a language in order to read it and to be able to write on high level in a language that is widely understood in scientific circles. As learning a language takes time and money, economically speaking, you’re in better position from the very start. Another fact is that you have much less problems while traveling. Wherever you go, people are trying to speak to you in your own language and not the other way around.
However, the greatest advantage, and often overlooked, is that you are in much better position when it comes to publishing content and reaching wide audiences. While it’s true that Anglophone countries are very economically developed and have a very strong entertainment industry, their status as world leading soft powers would be much shakier if English wasn’t globally dominant language. We can see that it’s true if we make a comparison with other highly developed countries whose languages aren’t globally dominant, such as Germany, France or Japan. While economically they have potential to be great soft powers and have very strong cultural influence, in practice their cultural influence is much smaller simply because neither of their languages is globally dominant. Indeed, authors form non-Anglophone countries have a much harder time making global impact, simply because of this Anglophone advantage. And the Anglo-American culture itself doesn’t seem to be too eager to accept cultural products from other countries, though this is whole another topic.
It follows that the dominant culture in the whole world is the Anglophone culture (with the exception of some very culturally isolated nations). That’s why I painted whole Europe in the British flag. What it exactly means, we’ll see from the following example:
Germany and France are two bordering nations. They are both strong regional forces, and have highly developed culture and economy. They have a long history of wars and rivalry, but also of mutual cultural influence. Yet today, the average person in each of those countries knows much less about the culture of the other country, than they know about the Anglophone culture. If the only culture familiar to most people in Europe, apart from their native culture, is the Anglophone one, the extent of Anglophone cultural domination becomes very clear.
This however is not just a fact that needs to be accepted. This is a situation which creates numerous delusions in many people.
First, just because Anglophone culture dominates, people can wrongly perceive all the other cultures as inferior and less important, and this is very far away from the truth. How can that be? Simple: the only foreign language most of people learn is English. So if you go online and search for some culture related articles, you’ll most likely type your search query in your native language or in English. If you type in English, you’ll end up on an English language website which will direct you towards English language movies, albums, songs, etc. For example if you type “greatest songs of all time” you’ll most likely end up on some list that features only English language songs, such as the list from the Rolling Stone magazine (a very good list, btw, though still extremely Anglocentric) that, out of 500 songs, lists only ONE song which isn’t in English. Of course this is not realistic, but if you don’t actively question it, you subconsciously accept that it is true and that only those songs are indeed relevant. What’s even more problematic, even if you don’t accept that, you’ll have a hard time FINDING lists of other songs at all, unless you learn other languages.
Second, by being exposed mainly to English language media, people adopt Anglocentric perspective on wide range of issues, a perspective that can, in some cases, be quite irrelevant to their particular situation.
Now, if your native language is not English, and you want to be in the same position as native English speakers, while at the same time maintaining objective and unbiased worldview, or if you are an author of any kind and want to create content that will reach wide audiences, there are some strategies you might adopt in order to overcome the Anglophone advantage. Let’s examine them.
First strategy: Make English language truly your own, but don’t assimilate
This means that you should strive to reach near native fluency and proficiency in English. Don’t have the illusion that if your English is decent, you’re on the same level as native speakers because you’re not. I personally notice that my English is not quite at the same level when I enter forums and chatrooms and when I encounter some unfamiliar terms and expressions. This motivates me to keep improving my English, because that’s the only way for me to become really efficient and competent in global communication. When you reach very high level in English you’ll have the same access to all the most important literature, and you’ll be able to publish content that will reach worldwide audiences. If English is truly global lingua franca it should not be the privilege of native English speakers, but truly global language, everyone’s language, universal medium of communication. So if you want to reach global audiences you can choose to write in English, like I do in this blog, but feel free to maintain your own point of view and to talk about issues that are important for your culture, country, etc. In such a way English language blogosphere will become more saturated with foreign, non-Anglocentric points of view, and consequently, it will become more balanced and less biased. This approach treats English just as a language, a tool for communication, without falling into trap of cultural assimilation. So if you write in English, you can still be yourself and you don’t need to pretend to be an American, English, etc. In a nutshell, you need to own the language.
The choice of language in which you write is a tricky one though. Everyone expresses themselves best in their native language, and if everyone chose to write in English that might endanger other languages. So if you choose to write in English anyway, make sure that your English is really good, and at the same time stay involved in your local community using local language and publishing some content in local language as well. This is especially true for novels: If your novel is good enough it will be translated and there’s no need to write in English. For blog posts, on the other hand, it’s better to use English to get in contact with larger number of people faster.
Second strategy: Learn more foreign languages and take active steps to familiarize yourself with other, non-English cultures, besides your native one
So, if you’re an Italian, this means you should, for example, learn German or French. Try to read content in other languages to be aware of other perspectives. Even if you don’t have time or inclination to learn more languages, you can still visit your local library and find translated books by authors from various countries. Try to keep exposing yourself regularly to such materials to maintain unbiased worldview, because, most probably, you’ll be exposed to English language content anyway, even if you don’t actively try. So try to compensate by exposing yourself to other content as well, not limited only to books but also music, films, etc.
Is there the Anglophone disadvantage as well?
I’ll conclude by saying that there might be some Anglophone disadvantage as well. First, native English speakers generally spend much less time studying foreign languages and are usually monolingual. This combined with high selectivity of Anglophone culture when it comes to culture of other countries can cause development of quite limited worldviews. To overcome that, you can use the same strategies described in previous section and keep yourself exposed to other cultures as well.
As a person who studies languages at University, I would like to see all the languages and cultures thrive, but I am also aware of the need for one common medium for international communication, and for that purpose English does a great job. However, this should not come at a price of superseding all the other languages and cultures. I hope the awareness of the Anglophone advantage and its implications will help prevent such an outcome.