Muchas Gracias

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I recently came across this image online, and I liked it a lot.  The quote comes from an inspiring publication called ‘Life’s Little Instruction Book’ by the American author, H. Jackson Brown Jr, and for me it makes a lot of sense in the context of today’s globalised society.

Native English speakers often forget how lucky we are to be naturally fluent in a language that is widely considered to be the universal one, despite the fact that Chinese and Spanish speakers are more prevalent.  Yes, we learn foreign languages in school, but even as we might struggle trying to learn key sentences like, “Ich wohne in einem Reihenhaus” (I live in a terraced house) or “J’ai une chat qui s’appelle Fluff” (I have a cat called Fluff) we know that essentially, wherever we go in the world, we’ll probably never be too far away from somebody who can speak a bit of English, and can help us out if we really need it.   That’s the reality, but we should never take it for granted…

…Sadly, there have been numerous occasions in which I’ve been abroad and felt embarrassed by fellow Brits, who just steam-roll into shops or restaurants and start booming out requests in English, expecting an immediate response and showing visible frustration if one isn’t forthcoming.  How difficult could it be just to learn – at the very least – one simple translation of “Do you speak English?” before rattling along with an urgent order of steak and chips?  Not all of us can pick up foreign languages, I know I struggle (and was explicitly told NOT to do German A-Level by a horrified looking German teacher when I mentioned I was considering it); but one simple sentence is all it needs to take to distinguish between common courtesy, and latent ignorance.

I will always have the utmost respect for those who persevere at learning other languages to the point where you feel that you can hold a conversation with them that knows no boundaries.  When I did the volunteering out in Indonesia, I was the lucky one.  English was, again, considered the universal language of the project, and I was the only one for whom it was my native tongue.  I can honestly say that some of the best conversations I’ve ever had were whilst out there speaking with the Indonesians and the other trainees, who came from all over the world.  I felt able to speak amongst those people as I would around people from home, such was their impressive command of English, to the point where I would often forget about the language barrier altogether.  I could never imagine being able to speak another language as well as they did English, and for that I feel a sense of shame.  It’s one thing to know how to describe the town you live, or to explain that you enjoy going to the cinema on Fridays and eating ice-cream, but if that was the limit to which everybody could speak a different language, then the world would be nowhere near as multicultural or diverse a place as it is today.  There’s a whole chasm of difference between the lingual intensity of sentences like those, and the more complex sentences which form the majority of our conversations with our fellow Brits.

And so, relating back to the original quote, when people who have learned English as a second language might apologise to us for their broken sentences (perhaps in response to the kind of vitriolic Brits mentioned earlier, who are just cross that they’ve needed to repeat themselves a couple of times), I always find myself thinking that the apology would make far more sense coming from the other way around…

We should just be grateful for the fact they’re trying!

Song of the Day:  Rita Marley – So Much Things to Say

…The bit when she sings about how rain falls over multiple roofs – as opposed to just one – always springs into my mind whenever I find myself stuck in a heavy rain shower, as seems to have happened quite a few times this month 🙂  Lovely song…

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