PODGORICA, MONTENEGRO – A new day… a new city…
Last week it was Vienna.
One morning, I was in Liechtenstein Park with my friend Tomasz and his two little girls.
During our conversation, Tomasz would stop from time to time to say something to the girls in Polish.
Later, when we had coffee in their apartment, his wife spoke to the girls in German.
But whenever I said even a few simple words to the girls in English… nothing but blank looks.
“Hey Tomasz, when are you going to start speaking to them in English?”
“Never. Their next language will be Chinese.”
UPDATE FROM THE ROAD
Greetings from the sunny capital of Montenegro.
A week ago I was in Prague, the place I’ve called home for the last 16 years.
Then, strange things started happening.
I went to a restaurant and a waitress asked me for my documents.
She told me she was obeying the government and if I didn’t obey I would have to leave.
I could eat on the street, I could eat in a tree, I could eat on the back of a turtle in the river, but I could not eat in her restaurant.
Now I hear that’s not even possible; you need these documents just to walk on the street.
In the movies, the bad guys wear uniforms and say, “Papers, please.”
But now the good guys are the bad guys.
And friends and family have heated arguments over who is right.
It’s a crazy world.
WHY NOT CHINESE?
Evidently, my friend Tomasz thinks Chinese will be the language of the future.
What do I think?
Well, I think there will be a future… and I think there will be language in the future… and I think Chinese will be one of them…
But “language of the future”…
Yeah, I don’t know about that.
The reason I don’t think that will happen is because of a simple phenomenon called “the standard.”
Let me explain how it works.
THE POWER OF THE STANDARD
When I was a kid it was a big deal to rent a movie.
Now you can watch anything, any time, anywhere. (Were’s the fun in that?)
But back in the ‘80s, a trip to the video rental store on a Friday was exciting.
And I remember the store was dIvided into two sections.
One side was for a format called VHS and the other side was for another format called Betamax.
Our family had VHS.
Our neighbors had Betamax.
Then one day — it seemed to happen overnight — VHS won the VCR wars and everyone was renting and buying VHS and not Betamax.
I’m not sure how it happened; and interestingly, I’ve read that Beta was the superior technology.
But that didn’t matter.
It was too late.
People follow the leader, they follow the crowd, and they don’t like change.
That’s the power of the standard.
THE LANGUAGE STANDARD
Did you know there’s a better layout for computer keyboards?
The design you’re using is inefficient.
Does it matter?
No, because the standard has been set.
Do you think Microsoft makes the best software?
Does it matter?
No, because it’s the standard.
Language is the same.
Many people have invented easy-to-learn languages with simple grammar that the world could use.
The most famous is Esperanto.
But none of them succeeded in defeating the standard, English.
And I don’t see it happening with Chinese, either.
English is the absolute standard.
It’s spoken by 1.3 billion people.
Another 1 billion are learning it.
It’s the official language of medicine, aviation, science, the United Nations and 59 countries.
It’s the unofficial language of business and finance.
More people speak English in Nigeria than in England.
And, of course, if you want to enjoy Friends without subtitles or dubbing, you’ll need English.
YOUR LAST CHINESE LESSON
Did you know that about 80% of English words don’t come from England?
They come from places like France and Rome and Scandinavia.
And yes, they even come from China! Here are three you probably already know:
Also, these common English expressions are literal translations from Chinese:
If you want to tell your boss that you can’t work this weekend, just say, “No can do.”
If you run into a friend on the street whom you haven’t kept in touch with, say “Long time no see.”
If you need to be somewhere soon and your kids are moving slowly, tell them “Chop chop!”
And I think that’s all the Chinese you’ll ever need.
Now go watch Friends.