Why can’t they learn English?


It’s not a contest to see who can get there quickest, nor is it something only certain talented people can do. Anyone can make a start on learning the local patois and make steady progress. Like learning to play a musical instrument, slow and steady wins the race. It will only be agonizing if you manufacture and then listen to a critical voice in your head that says you’re not progressing quickly enough. As you may recall from earlier times, comparing yourself to others, real or imagined, is guaranteed misery.

A common reaction to the challenge of learning another language at a relatively advanced age is to protest, “I’ve never been good at that sort of thing.” As if there were people who were uniquely talented in language acquisition, and it was their job to learn other languages. What a lame excuse! Learning a few hundred words in another tongue takes only weeks of work, and provides a foundation that will pay handsome rewards in the future. Imagine what you could learn if you could only talk to your neighbors.

I’m a veteran of talking myself out of things that I’m afraid would be too difficult.

When I was thirteen, I went through a phase of wanting to play the guitar. My family was struggling economically, so I knew I would have to earn and save money to buy the guitar myself. I thought about guitars night and day. I never did any more than daydream about learning the guitar, and I never bought a guitar.

Then, when I was sixteen, I went through the phase again. This time, I told myself that it was too late, and that because I hadn’t started when I was thirteen, I was already way behind in the race.

When I was twenty, I had another guitar attack, but by now the rationalizations were well set in place, and I was able to convince myself that it was hopeless. I told myself that I would be willing to go through the process of learning those damn chords only if I could find a special guitar suited for my special personality, one that would allow me to skip the drudgery that others endured. A cursory search proved that no such guitar existed.

Now, I am in my early sixties, and I still have not learned to play the guitar. Obviously, I am a man of strong convictions!

I tell this story not to inspire pity, but to remind myself that much more than external circumstances, my beliefs have pretty much determined the course of my life.

If ever there were a time to stop such defeatist nonsense, it is now. Blessed with exotic homes separated by distance and time from our past lives, we have been granted a new lease on life. Today, I can’t imagine a better tonic than learning something new.

I’m working on learning Thai, taking piano lessons and practicing about an hour a day on a couple of Chopin nocturnes, Debussy’s Clair de Lune, painting a few pictures every now and then, taking photographs, and writing this. That’s enough to give me a sense of participating in life.




I don’t have enough money saved

How much money you need is totally determined by how much you will need to spend. If you have a shopping compulsion, or need to buy extremely expensive things, then you’ll need more money. Some people always spend more money than they have. Wherever they call home, these people will never know the freedom of living within their means. No matter how cheaply it is possible to live in a country, they won’t be able to live there without going into debt and agonizing over money.

I don’t have enough guaranteed income

Again, how much will you really need? If you neighbors are all doing fine on $800 a month, can’t you manage on $1400?

I’ll be too far away from my family

You family can come visit, and they will probably enjoy doing so more than having you visit them where they live. Sure, it will cost quite a bit in plane tickets, but then you’re saving so much money living outside the States that surely you can eventually save enough to help them visit.

Insufficient medical care available

This notion is absurd. Top notch medical care is available all over the world for those who can pay for it, and since medical costs in the States are four to ten times higher than in most other places, this is not really an issue. If you’re lucky enough to have medical coverage in America, then that coverage will extend to the rest of the world. If not, count yourself lucky to live somewhere where going to the doctor won’t bankrupt you.