I’m often questioned why I’m learning languages. In a world where English is so widely spoken, what am I getting out of it? I’m not required to speak any foreign languages for work, I only visit the countries I’m learning the language of maybe once or twice a year, there is no expectation on me whatsoever to speak anything other than my natural tongue, and yet I find myself investing an awful lot of my free time into studying German, Spanish and French. I’ll admit, I often wonder why?
There are so many people that come to my country (England!) to live, to work, to play sports, to holiday and there is almost an expectation upon them to speak English. If there’s one thing, in my opinion, that we English get wrong, it’s assuming that other’s speak our language. When we leave this country, we don’t have that expectation of ourselves to speak the local tongue.
Get ready, get set… for language at Wimbledon!
I’ll use sport as an example. I’m writing this as I watch the Wimbledon Women’s Final between Marion Bartoli (French) and Sabine Lisicki (German). Both players have just finished 2 grueling weeks of top level sport, and played a high intensity final in the 27 degree sunshine of SW19. Both players are full of the emotion of winning or losing, and the first thing they’re expected to do is to be interviewed in front of a 3,500 strong crowd and a TV audience of millions. Imagine for a second just how hard that would be. Now remind yourself that these two extraordinary women are doing that in their second language.
I appreciate Wimbledon is an English tournament, so you could argue that the assumption that the interviews would be conducted in English is a fair one. But my mind immediately goes back to Bradley Wiggins winning the Le Tour De France, very much a French event. The first thing he said on the podium was “If you’ll excuse me, I’ll speak in English.” I think Bradley deserves a lot of credit for this. He didn’t just stand up in France, at a French event, and start speaking English without at least acknowledging the native tongue of the majority of his audience. Yes, he spoke English, but his opening line suggests he at least knew it would be polite to speak French had he had the ability to do so.
And there lies my reason for learning languages. Because it’s polite.
On recent trips to Germany and Spain, I tried my best to speak as little English as I could. Obviously I got things wrong and I’m a way off being fluent, but just holding a conversation in a foreign language is so rewarding and knowing how appreciative the locals were of my efforts is reason enough for me.
At work, we have many foreign clients. I work in the automotive industry which very heavily revolves around Germany, and we distribute our products all over the world. Everyone I’ve ever dealt with speaks English, so there really is no NEED for me to speak in anything other than English. But I want to. I think it represents my company (and myself!) in a much better light if I at least attempt to converse in the language of the person I’m speaking to. I can’t always discuss everything I want to (my Rosetta Stone course doesn’t cover Modified Sine Wave Inverters or Xenon Headlamps believe it or not!) but you’d be amazed at what chatting about the weather before we get down to business can do for the business/client relationship.
I have the utmost respect for the two girls who’ve just appeared on Centre Court. Not just for the afternoon of entertainment they served up (pardon the pun!), but for the way they were so effortlessly able to sum up their emotions and accept their accolades in such a dignified, humble, courteous and eloquent manner, in a language that isn’t their own.
So there you have it, next time I’m asked why I’m bothering to learn other languages I have a new response – In case I ever win the French Open. 😉
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