Radio Series: "Are Foreign Languages Really Foreign?"

In a Europe-wide media series public personalities – writers, journalists, prominent individuals from the realms of industry, the media or politics – tackled the question of what is foreign in other languages.

The term "foreign" actually covers everything we are not familiar with. From the point of view of the perceiver, the foreign is something that strikes him as different or unusual: a different taste, a new melody …

Foreignness may be exotic, interesting and unusual in the positive sense, or extraordinary. But the foreign can also be seen as something unpleasant, even frightening.

Ways of dealing with the foreign can differ. It can be observed, explored and, in the final analysis, something can be learnt and experienced about it, and then it will automatically become less foreign, or what is foreign will become familiar. But often the foreign is also simply rejected. On the one hand, the value of the familiar may be enhanced by distinguishing it from the foreign. One knows about the great unknown surrounding one's small island, leading one to appreciate the latter even more. On the other hand rejection prevents any engagement with the foreign and any possibility of getting to know it better.

But who or what are the foreigners?

A whole group can be perceived as being foreign. The "others" are all those who are not "us". They go to a different school, work in a different company, they ride a bike instead of driving a car or they come from another country and speak a different language. Even a single member of this foreign group is foreign to us. He is "the foreigner".
In his philosophy of the absurd, Albert Camus immediately assigns to the whole of humanity a foreignness in the world. This absurdity, as he calls it, arises from the dichotomy between man striving for meaning and the meaningless world.
But a person can also be foreign to him- or herself. In the film "The Brave One" (entitled in German "Die Fremde in Dir" - "The Stranger in You") Jodie Foster shows how a perfectly normal woman turns into an avenging angel. This woman departs so far from her own self and her own moral notions of live and let live that she becomes estranged, and hence foreign, within herself.

So much for the common definitions and examples. But what does the foreign look like to individuals? Who or what is "the foreign" for people? How foreign do people find other countries, other peoples and their languages? Are so-called foreign languages really always foreign? And do they stay foreign?
In a Europe-wide radio series prominent personalities from various fields tackled the question "Are foreign languages foreign to you?" They described how they envisage dealing with supposedly foreign languages. What their experience had been in this respect.
The series was presented on the European Day of Languages, which takes place annually on 26 September, presented by the Goethe-Institut jointly with its media partners throughout Europe. The range of views presented are compiled on these pages.

The people addressed here include those interested in languages as well as those members of the public who had not yet come into contact with foreign languages (adults and young people), plus decision-makers in the realms of culture, politics and industry in Europe.

In all, the series was intended to show that, because of the multicultural nature of European societies, migration and global mobility, foreign languages had not been foreign for some time. The otherness of foreign languages should be seen as enrichment and should be presented as a positive challenge. At the same time multilingualism should be shown to be an educational asset, a cultural technique, and also a functional way of securing the future. Consequently learning foreign languages both gives a competitive edge and provides a social enrichment.

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