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‘…müssen sie Deutsch sprechen’

Mar 04,2018 - Last updated at Mar 04,2018

A lawyer mentioned in conversation recently that the number of Jordanian lawyers who know another language well enough to be able to, not necessarily draft a contract, but understand one in that language is about 250. Before I could say that this number is grossly inadequate, another friend who was present contested the figure, insisting that he does not believe there are more than 25.

Pressed, the lawyer admitted that the linguistically proficient lawyers are dispersed between Jordan and the Gulf countries, and that there are even fewer judges who have a working knowledge of a second language.

These lawyers and judges may be experts in their field, but as 13th century English philosopher Roger Bacon observed, the conquest of learning is achieved through the knowledge of languages.

In Paris, for instance, the Institut d’Etudes Politiques considers proficiency in English in addition to French as prerequisite for a master degree in international relations. Moreover, a graduate degree in regional studies requires fluency in one of the region’s languages, plus French and English.

The reason for these conditions, a professor explained, is that more than 80 per cent of knowledge and more than 90 per cent of Internet content are recorded in English. As for the third language requirement, an expert on a region should at least be able to read a local newspaper from that region.

In some advanced countries, teaching languages is taken even more seriously and at an earlier age. In Holland, English and one or two more modern languages are compulsory subjects in the secondary education system. A Dutch friend of mine explained the reason for his country’s focus on teaching languages by saying that Holland is a relatively small country whose economy depends largely on international trade. This means going to the buyer and making a sales pitch to him, preferably in his language.

As German chancellor Willy Brandt pointed out: “If I’m selling to you, I speak your language. If I’m buying, dann müssen Sie Deutsch sprechen.”

Upon reflection, Jordan is also a small country that depends on international relations. Our economy depends heavily on international aid, tourism and remittances from Jordanians working abroad. So ideally, every Jordanian should be fluent in Arabic and English, plus another international language or one of the main regional languages.

Seriously. It is no secret that the economy of Jordan cannot offer adequate opportunities for its growing population. Therefore, Jordanians need to excel in creating knowledge and producing high value-added services that can be marketed internationally.

Excellence requires language proficiency, according to 16th century writer Roger Ascham: “As a hawk flieth not high with one wing, even so a man reacheth not to excellence with one tongue.”

As for the importance of languages for successful marketing, Nelson Mandela put it most succinctly when he observed, “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his own language, that goes to his heart.”

Just a thought for the Ministry of Education.


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140 users have voted.


With all due respect to your friend that suggested the number doesn't exceed 25-- there is a serious flaw in his under estimation. I personally know more than 25 Jordanian citizens that masterfully speak, read, and write in the English language and interpret any contact irrespective of the complexity of its language and none of them work as judges or lawyers. They are regular citizens with a penchant for learning the English language.They are born and raised in Amman and other Jordanian governorates. And that is not even counting myself with the bunch. Just because they were never invited or given the opportunity to speak or engage in a public debate to manifest their prowess in verifying that they thoroughly comprehend the English language doesn't mean that they don't exist or count.Even your number of 250 pales to the total number of jordanians that are highly proficient in the discernibility of the English language. I'm not sure why is it that we always have the tendency to baselessly underestimate our cognizance and deftness without relying on empirical data that vetts the actual reflective numbers that exist but regrettably nonfunctional merely due to the dearth opportunities in the kingdom. Let us transcend a little more reflective & pollyannaish image about our citizens and their repertoire of knowledge before we advertise about erroneous misrepresentative numbers.

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