Bilingual signs and language

Dear Editor,

I was surprised by many of the comments (negative) and attitudes last week and online.

I lived and taught in Greece and I cannot understand the problem of bilingual signs or a reluctance to speak English.

After all, who keeps the Algarve going, surviving, pays our costs etc.? Surely, the ONLY real industry we have is tourism. It does not happen in Greece, where there is an eagerness to help, a recognition of how important tourists are, and their needs!

Virtually every village in Greece has its private, after-school teaching centres of English. Parents are eager to see their children educated. I remember a small place in a fairly remote village where the owner was proud that his young daughter could take orders for meals in English, not just because he relied on those tourists for his income but he wanted his daughter to get on, and English books are widely available for all levels.

Why is it different here? Attitudes? School, but then most countries introducing English recruit English native teachers, something Portugal refuses to do.

Travelling in Greece, living there, one finds that most Greeks are eager to speak to you in English to practice. Here, few do.

My husband needed urgent treatment one evening recently. Going to the Centro de Saúde in Albufeira, neither the receptionist nor doctor spoke English. In Albufeira? He was saved by a very nice nurse.

Years ago, I took a Portuguese teenager to England for experience, a holiday. Her reaction was rude, nothing matched Portuguese history, views, food etc., despite so many people welcoming her, trying to help.

I am sorry, while I know many nice, open Portuguese, many are like that girl – or não faz mal! And before anyone says, “not in England, wrong, bilingual signs in Kent (roads), bilingual notices in unemployment centres etc. bilingual police, Japanese in Haworth (Brontes), newspapers in many languages, even BBC programmes in Hidi etc.; and western isles?

Yes, especially in the Algarve, we must be outgoing and seek to please/help tourists (why are tourist signs, posters, music details etc. in Albufeira, Silves (castle etc), Portimão et al not in English? In Silves, I was told, “they cannot be bothered”!) The Algarve must be bilingual; it is our future, commercial survival.

Many, many countries have a different attitude. From Bhutan to Iceland. In Turkey, one example and a competitor for tourism, there are signs in English (Istanbul for example) and young volunteer guides wearing t-shirts which proclaim “I speak English”.

Those objecting need to open their eyes and minds, like the excellent comment from a Portuguese teacher, who clearly had no time for, what she termed, patriotic views (I could say insular, the ostrich burying its head in the sand).

And remember, we have a wide range of visitors, mainly but not all are British (official data 2011, 32.8%) but those from places like Norway and Holland mostly speak fluent English.

So no more nonsense, let’s rise to the challenge, especially in difficult times, and welcome our visitors and be bilingual in most things, including our supermarkets and auditoriums!


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