You Can Help Defeat U.A.M.S. – Ugly American Monolingual Syndrome

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Spaces are a waste of time

It is an old joke:

If someone who speaks two languages is bilingual and someone who speaks three languages is trilingual then what do you call someone who speaks only one language? American.

I grew up in a country when I could get in my car and drive east or north for 3,000 miles yet still be able to speak to most people in my native language. It isn’t until you start to travel that you might realize how rare that is. Try and draw a line that long in Europe and see how many native languages you will encounter. Add to that the fact that when I leave the shores of my country and come to yours the most common second language I will encounter will likely be English, my mother tongue. Hollywood has gone ahead of me to spread English to a place that even France that put the franca in langua franca worries about encroachment from English. While they mount the barricades over “le parking” or “le hot dog”, Americans might easily assume it is their God given right to speak English.

U.A.M.S. – Ugly American Monolingual Syndrome – the unapologetic belief that English is superior, universal and expected

Researcher are still debating the causes and seriousness of this debilitating disorder but its symptoms are commonly agreed upon.

  • Behavior that implies a belief that people who don’t understand English must be slow witted
  • Behavior that implies a belief that people who don’t understand English are hard of hearing
  • Behavior that implies an ignorance that some countries might actually have a different language

Historic References to U.A.M.S.

“If English was good enough for Jesus Christ, then it is good enough for Texas children.” –Texas Governor Ferguson 1924

OK, although that quote has been attributed to Governor Ferguson in 1924 while debating the merits of a bi-lingual education is unlikely that she every said it. References to this quote go back to the 1880s attributed to numerous people. Who ever said it first probably suffered from U.A.M.S. (as well as a serious problem with history as what would become English really starts around the 800s).


If you are someone you love has early onset U.A.M.S. you can be encouraged that some treatment options are showing promise.

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Chris Christensen

by Chris Christensen

Chris Christensen is the creator of the Amateur Traveler blog and podcast. He has been a travel creator since 2005 and has won awards including being named the "Best Independent Travel Journalist" by Travel+Leisure Magazine.

2 Responses to “You Can Help Defeat U.A.M.S. – Ugly American Monolingual Syndrome”

David Elwood


I’m with you on this. I try to learn the language of every country I visit, at least enough to ask for directions & help. The locals seem to appreciate that you at least try to communicate. Just trying has brought me so much extra attention and assistance.

Tyler Muse at Lingo Live


Interesting post on language and American tourists. I definitely find myself feeling personal embarrassment after witnessing a fellow American act this way. Hilarious article Chris!

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