...and other stories about speaking English
I recently read a Financial Times article
about why people should just stick to learning and mastering English instead of Mandarin. David Cameron, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, recently urged students to start learning Mandarin instead of languages like French or German. The article argued that while this has some merit, the language of business is still English, and my experiences in Europe have showed me that this is true.
NYU Stern took the Business and Political Economy program students to Prague this past weekend, and on the way, no one started freaking out about not knowing Czech. Airport announcements were made in both Czech and English. Signs everywhere were in both languages. When the cashier at McDonald's asked me something in Czech, my confused look was enough for him to repeat the question in English. For the most part, people in major cities all speak two languages: their countries' language and English.
Paris was a bit different. When a few of my friends went over Fall break, we found that most people solely spoke French. Luckily for us, we had all studied French in high school, so we managed to get around. Barely. It really got me thinking about my language studies in the US. I had studied French for 8 years, yet could not hold a conversation with the people who worked at the train station, or the hotel staff, or the workers at the Louvre. We were relieved when we interacted with someone who spoke English; it was a lot less embarrassing than using my 8th grade French.
I had a similar experience in Italy, except that time, none of us really knew any Italian. My mother is Peruvian, so I know quite a lot of Spanish, but that wasn't really too useful in Rome. When I approached a person to ask a question, the first question I would always ask was, "English?" The second was subsequently, "Spanish?" If I had no luck with either, I would sigh and start miming my question while guessing words in Italian.
I've never been absolutely lost in a language. I've always known some words or important questions (e.g. where is the bathroom?). But even England is giving me some problems with my English. I still find myself confusing dollars and pounds, lines and queues, schedule with shhhedule
. Last year (and this year for that matter) I lived with a Londoner, so I picked up some British slang quite early. "Knock on wood" slowly became "touch wood," and "I don't care" turned into "I'm not fussed." There are still a few words I'm learning and picking up, but I tell my friends and family that I'll come back still speaking regular
Eight months isn't enough to pick up a British accent (did you know you can have different British accents based on where you live on the island?), but it sure is enough to hear and recognize, and even start to use, some of the nuances in the language.
The image is a sign from an economic research building in Prague.