October 10, 2012

language learning

Sitting around a small table on the beach, over looking the vibrant Thai sunset, I spoke in English with people from Israel, Taiwan, Hungry and Canada over a meal of spicy Thai curry. We talked about our travels, tidbits from home, our upcoming adventures and life in general. Talking with different characters along the way is probably my favorite part of the whole traveling experience, people from all cultures teaching you about what life is like from their point of view, even if for just a few minutes. Language is what travel is all about, whether it's English or Burmese, conversing and laughing and being with others is a natural characteristic of life all over our planet.

One of my favorite activities is people watching and I enjoy (probably too much) sipping a relaxing green tea and watching the scene before me emerge. I used to have to do this for assignments in university as a psychology student and it stuck; it is an interesting way to learn more about the way our society works (and to pass the time.) Tourist spots like Thailand are a perfect place for this "hobby" as you can pass it off as just gazing at the stunning scenery. It will never cease to amaze me when traveling that even the most diverse group will usually be communicating together in English, a very difficult language to become proficient in, yet conversations flow easily around complex subjects.

Hearing different languages all around me is comforting now as my ears are accustomed to tuning everything out, it is when English is being spoken fluently, I sometimes shy away. While I do speak English most of the time at my school, there is a lot of Thai going on around me, you would think I would pick more up, but usually it goes in one ear and out the other, unless I have my headphones in. I am almost as good as my mother at tuning my surroundings out at this point though sometimes the Thai tones can make me crazy.

Living as an expat teaching English in Asia, language is an integral part of my everyday life. I work with English as a second language and I daily can see the influence learning a language has on an individual. My students constantly amazing me with their proficiency in several languages and their ability to absorb everything I say, even just once, and make it part of their vocabulary so easily. I often say my students are smarter than me as they all are at least completely bilingual. And they are only five years old. They really will have the world at their fingertips.

It is true, people that speak more than one language will have so many opportunities in the future, as our global society evolves with young learners with open minds and new challenges, the world is changing. Education is changing in many parts of the world with this in mind, except for a few major ones. Everyone may be trying to learn English but if young Americans keep the rest of the world at bay, they will be left behind. Excuse me, let me step off my soapbox...

As a native English speaker, I think we tend to take our native language for granted because it is so easy to travel if you know English, as the rest of the world is learning it and you can find it pretty much anywhere you might want to go. Living in a country where English is not the language is an eye opening experience that everyone should at least try in order to gain a greater perspective on your own identity. We are very lazy when it comes to learning another language, (not all, speaking for myself) and I think in the future this will either become a major problem, or will change and evolve with our global world. Excuse me, let me step off my soapbox...

Even though there is a big push to learn English right now, if you cannot communicate well in an international community, your missing out. I am quite embarrassed at the fact I only speak English even though I have lived abroad. Of course you pick up on the language when you live there, but since I did not learn languages from a young age, it is quite difficult for me to grasp the pronunciation and remember vocabulary. I am a typical lazy American I guess.

I feel so lucky to be able to converse with people from all over in English on my travels, and respect travelers from non English speaking countries who really try to speak English because they want to  know more about the world and they know how important it is when traveling. Studying a second language is a positive endeavor for many reasons (see infographic) but I think the most important being traveling and learning not only a new way to express yourself but a new perspective in which to see the world.

inspire language learning

 This entry was written for a competition by Kaplan. Check out  Kaplan Inspire Language Learning Blogger Challenge to learn more!

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