While the image of English-speakers as wilful monoglots is a common one, Dawkins is not one of them. He's learning German, not for practical reasons but as an atonement for the prejudice England has, and wants to avoid English monolingualism. From Attempting to learn German
I like to think of my life as governed by rational decisions, but I
have to admit that my attempt to learn German in my quixotic seventies
is governed more by emotion—an emotion that might strike some as
positively irrational. I don’t specifically need German for my life or
my work. No, my motive is almost akin to penance: a personal
atonement, however futile, for the pathos-ridden arrogance of my
nation. Brexit has made me ashamed to be English. I’m ashamed of the
England of Farage and his xenophobic yobs—and of Cameron whose
cowardly opportunism gave them their head. I’m ashamed to be English,
not British: I’d be proud to be Scottish or Irish today.
Brexit is the obvious recent manifestation of both the arrogance of
the English and its ignominious unjustifiability, but it has shown
itself for longer in our attitude to the learning of languages.
Insofar as we teach languages at school, we treat them like Latin,
with no expectation that, having mastered gerunds and the subjunctive,
there’s any need to end up actually having a conversation with Johnny
As I remarked in a previous contribution to Prospect, a trip to
Amsterdam or Stockholm or even—as I recently discovered, Budapest or
Prague—should fill us English monoglots with shame. I suggested that a
step in the right direction would be to persude our broacast news
media to abolish voice-over translations and replace them with
subtitles. In the same vein, I am now watching DVDs of German films.
Films like the epic saga Heimat or the deeply moving Das Leben der
Anderen are no hardship, but highly enjoyable. I still need the
English subtitles, but while reading them I’m making a strenuous
effort to pick out as many German words as I can. The idea is to let
the language wash through me, to tune my ear to it so that I learn in
what’s left, at my age, of the effortless facility of the child brain.
You can see a demo of his speaking German in the Richard Dawkins Foundation facebook group here. I can't speak German, but several people are commenting that he speaks it reasonably well.