English as a Second Language (or third, or fourth)


We just spent a year in Thailand, and even though I tried my best to learn Thai in three months of lessons, not much stuck. I spoke more Spanish after two weeks of lessons than I did Thai after twelve. And not many Thais speak English. It’s really hard for them, and their schools are less than rigorous, so English speakers just expect not to be able to talk to Thais about much more than how much something costs.

Here, in Dubai, everybody thinks they speak English, but most of them do so with a variety of accents that are so thick that they might as well be speaking Icelandic or Maori. I’ve never seen such a polyglot crowd as the populace of this place. I was going to use the word “cosmopolitan” but then I realized that wasn’t really the right word, for it implies sophistication. Never have I seen such a melting pot of races and tongues, and the only common language they have is English, though to the casual, untrained ear you’d never know it. I don’t feel I can smirk or feel superior, as I have limited command of two other languages besides English, and knowing any foreign language at all makes me a veritable oddity in my country. Where I come from if you talk English, you’re normal, and any other language is for weirdos, who are probably just putting on airs. We secretly believe if you wake them up in the middle of the night and ask them a question, they’ll forget their posing and talk normal.

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