Monday, October 09, 2006

Language School Enrolments - Notions of Nationality

Who do you think you are? Interesting what language students think when searching for language courses and destinations on the internet. With regard to the UK, I believe you are right in that many people do look for "England" first. However, I have found that it depends on the nationality of the person searching, not to mention the search language. Here in France, for example, the French always talk about "l'Angleterre" which for them means the political entity of the United Kingdom. Any notion of Scotland, Wales or Ireland is very secondary, if it exists at all.

Americans too, tend to think in terms of "England" (as in Little Old.....!!) and perhaps also "Britain" (less so "Great Britain"). When expressing themselves in English, in my experience, most other nationalities these days would say "UK" or "United Kingdom" (especially when writing) and, therefore, use these as search terms. Of course, if they search on "English" they are just as likely to find Malta or New Zealand!! I think the English language is one of our more successful exports!!

It always surprises me how unaware Americans are about their own nationality. Perhaps because they do not have a multi-national experience - I mean compared to so many countries in Europe packed close together. Most Americans live so far away from any political border. On our enrolment forms, when asking for the nationality of the candidate, Americans will often write variously "Black", White", "Caucasian", "Afro-Asian", "Jewish", USA and a few others!! I think "American" is the correct answer. What would you write?

This is not intended to be over critical about Americans. People from the UK when asked the same question will often write "English". The Scots will almost certainly respond "Scottish" (many are desperate to have a separate political identity - but no passports yet!!), the Welsh will almost never respond "Welsh", they would say "British". Northern Irish too, I think would be inclined to say "British". Here's one for your readers: "If all Welsh people are British, are all British people Welsh?". (Answers please on a postcard to………).

On notions of nationality, I think the explanation is that people who travel frequently outside their own country are acutely aware of their correct political nationality as they have to cope with border posts, customs controls and a plethora of forms and the like. Perhaps someone from the middle of Georgia really does feel more "Black" than "American" and someone from Stratford-upon-Avon really does feel more "English" than "British".


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