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Over the last month, I've changed my ways of trying to communicate in the local language, and I've been living the life of a typical English-speaking tourist.
This is the first time in a long time that I've tried this, as I almost always work on linguistic immersion as a means of getting to know a culture. The results of this experiment have been eye-opening for me, especially since I can compare it to the alternative through years of experience.
So, enough talk of learning other languages. How can that possibly enrich your life if you are already a native speaker of the [ironic mode on] best language ever?
In today's post, I'm going to give some arguments shared by my fellow English speakers, on why learning another language really is just a waste of your time. You can travel the world just with English, and here's why:
- In many places, you will have no problem ordering food and checking into your hotel entirely through English. This is, after all, pretty much the only reason you ever need to talk to other human beings: to get French fries and an air-conditioned bedroom. Actually getting to know the locals is a waste of your precious travel time
- If you're an English speaker, you don't have any work at all to do in learning the international language! You automatically have the advantage over everyone else, as it should be. All English speakers agree that this is perfectly fair, so it is!
- The most important things to do in other countries are: taking pictures of the sites, going on package tours and eating food in restaurants with translated menus. Making a local friend, eating with their family and going out with them to somewhere not recommended in your tourist brochure / Lonely Planet guide can only lead to trouble; all foreigners want to kill you remember.
- You will find lots of other tourists to hang out with wherever you go. It's way more logical to travel thousands of kilometres to hang out with people from just down the road; you share so much in common! Foreign countries are so weird; it's best to avoid any kind of immersion and stick to what you know!
- Learning another language is hard and takes decades of study. On top of this, research has shown that after a certain age it is impossible. An adult could never learn a language quickly.
- You simply don't have the time to learn even some basic phrases and polite pleasantries; on the flight over for example you have some important reading of quality airline magazines to do, as well as staring out the window and squirming uncomfortably
- English is the best language in the world and perfectly suited to being the international language. Anyone could find the inconsistent spelling rules, unnecessary formalities, huge amount of synonyms, irregularities and vast differences between dialects super easy to master. It's not like there's any good competition for international language or anything.
- English will always be the international language. I know we said this for Latin… then French… but we mean it this time!
- England and the US have no bad history with any other country on the planet, so everyone loves to hear English. You are doing the locals a favour by spreading the world's best language!
- Foreigners use of English can never be confusing
- If they occasionally make it hard to understand, it's their fault. You went to all that trouble to buy a plane ticket to their country, so they should have the common decency of speaking a language from the other side of the planet.
- Actually forget what I said about common decency, since that rule doesn't apply to you; you speak the special chosen language!! It's great to be the exception to the rule, isn't it?!
- If the person doesn't speak English, they aren't worth speaking to. They probably all have simple lives, spending their days in tree huts. University educated locals that work in the tourist industry are your key to an authentic experience!
[Ironic mode off]
OK, seriously – the last month has been among the least interesting of all my travels. Thailand's islands are pretty, but this style of travel is not for me. There are so many things missing, and this post shows that I really don't understand other travellers' attitude when it comes to learning at least a little of the local language.
It seems that most of them either think that learning the local language is unnecessary (which I disagree with, and will go into detail about another time), or is too hard or too time consuming; which I'm hoping this blog can help to disprove.
I suppose it comes down to different styles of travel. Some people take breathtaking photos of their destinations, and measure their travels in kilometres covered, number of countries visited, new foods tasted and perhaps even names of unknown villages they discovered. My criteria are much more simple: the experiences I have with those I meet. Sorry guys, but talking with Australians, Brits, Americans, Canadians, South Africans and other Irish that happen to be on the same path.. is not enough for me.
This post is mostly venting my own frustration in a disappointing last month, rather than trying too hard to criticise other modes of travel. I'm back to the style of travel I like, and that's all that really matters.
I'll follow this post up soon with a more positive look on how speaking the local language can hugely enrich your travels. My bouncing around is over, and I'm back in Bangkok now (just for 3 more weeks), attempting to speak the little Thai I know every chance I get, and to improve on it every day. The experience is much greater and I feel like I'll be leaving Thailand with something extra than if I had left after just following the typical path covered by millions before me.
Learning some of the local language isn't that hard, and I hope I can convince some people of that on this blog. Let's stop being typical English-speaking tourists 🙂