Home Discover LuxembourgExpat Columns The Curse of the Monolingual in Luxembourg

The Curse of the Monolingual in Luxembourg

by Christelle McKillen

What can I say? My broken French is a constant source of embarrassment in a country where the average 8-year-old passing me on the street can easily shift between at least 3 languages.

As native English speakers we have come to be very complacent with only speaking our mother tongue and expecting absolutely everyone around us to do so too. I’m also *a bit* of a hypocrite, I often huff and puff about the French not speaking adequate English and expecting us all to speak French… (pot kettle black).

Considering myself relatively well traveled and having lived/worked in several non-English speaking countries it’s actually quite ridiculous that my language ability remains stagnant.

People told me:  get a boyfriend that speaks the language, that’s the best way to learn!


We conversed only in English, and when I tried in French the conversation would be so limited that we would quickly shift back to English. I fully take responsibility for my lack of linguistic ability, my response to everyone was and still is ‘I am not gifted with languages’ but is this true, or am I just a lazy Anglo?

They say if you can master at least one other language the rest become easier to pick up, because it changes how your brain actually works. (Disclaimer: I just read this on a random internet article.)

Not to put the blame on my beloved home place (Northern Ireland), BUT …  growing up no one stressed to me the importance of learning a second language, many friends here in Lux started learning English at a very young age – I wish that had been the case for me in any other language.

Sure, I did the basic GCSE Spanish and then I dropped it like a hot patata as soon as I had the chance. I wish someone had just said ‘HOLD ON A SEC, do you really think you are going to live a life whereby speaking another language will be of no use?’

A certain sense of entitlement and ‘linguistic privilege’ persists – whether I am in Istanbul, Serbia or Buenos Aires – I will always expect there to be someone speaking English, be it in a restaurant, hotel, airport etc. and nine times out of ten there indeed is!  

A leftover remnant of Britain as a world colonial power, the discovery of the ‘New World’ and the superpower that is the USA has catapulted English to the forefront of the world – if language was a currency let’s just say you would be pretty flat broke without it.

I’m working on abandoning this feeling of entitlement and expectation that the world conveniently revolves around my one language, but it’s just so deeply conditioned.

I’m still taking my weekly French course – truth be told I don’t think I’ll ever be one of these people who sounds adept and capable in another language (or maybe that’s me making excuses again?)… mais cést la vie!

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