There are few things more quintessentially British than the monarchy, but the recent royal newlyweds were less than British in character as they greeted the Canadian public last week. Addressing an enthusiastic crowd in Ottawa during a tour of Canada with his new wife, Prince William broke with British stereotype by speaking not just English, but French too. The traditional image of Brits abroad talking brazenly in their own language, or at best fumbling with an order for dos cervezas, was cast aside instantly as William spoke slowly, apologetically but admittedly very well, to his Canadian audience in French.
The cheer that erupted as the first words in French rolled off his tongue was proof enough that his efforts were appreciated. Not that they were necessary – the truth being that us Brits can get away with speaking English, and only English, almost anywhere in the world – but that’s not really the point. The majority of us may sit back and expect the rest of the world to speak back to us in English, which for the most part works, but the effort to learn even just a little of the language of the country you are visiting can touch hearts and get you much further than fluency in your own language. You will likely endear yourself to the locals, meet people you may not otherwise and experience local life in a way that a non-comprehending visitor may not.
For this we salute William for getting up there and putting his French on display, flaws and all (not that there were many), for the Québecois. Whatever your thoughts on the monarchy itself, William has acted as a true role model and done the nation proud by showing that we’re not all inept at languages. At Cactus of course we know that, sending thousands of you away on foreign language courses each year, but with GCSE language uptake dwindling each year and the dominance of English gathering momentum, his speech couldn’t come at a better time.
As Nelson Mandela once said, “If you talk to a man in a language he understands it goes to his head. If you talk to him in his own language it goes to his heart.”