Traveller's Guilt... Only Speaking English

I love being English, I love the history we have, I love the geography of our tiny island, I love the fact most of the world thinks I have a really cute accent.

I love that I can wander at will throughout the European Union and only have to fill in the barest minimum of forms to visit so many other parts of the world. I am really lucky to have the potential options to get working visas with relative ease for a variety of roles in a variety of places.

I'm also really glad that I speak English fluently, and quite guilty that I don't have any other languages rolling off my tongue.

I took French lessons in school for years, but mostly used those double periods as a chance to catch up on homework for subjects I had a chance with and to gossip about Harry Potter. I don't feel guilty about the fact I don't regret that.

In my opinion the way languages are taught in British schools needs a serious overhaul, but it needs changes that will take generations, not years, to take effect. It's not just a problem of how foreign languages are presented, it's the concepts of grammar that would help our understanding of English just aren't things that get taught. We do Noun, Verb, Adjective, Past, Present and Future but I don't know what the imperfect past participle is and being able to recite -o, -s, -t, -mus, -tis, -nt doesn't help.

I had French once a week in primary school and twice a week in seniors, by the time you take in to account getting into lessons, messing around with books, taking the register, I'd be surprised if I had an hour a week of actual teaching time. That's not enough to learn a language, an hour a day might do it. More teachers and smaller classes are the stand by easy ways to improve any learning experience, but paticularly with languages I think. No teacher with 30 children in the room has time to correct every individual or really even to teach them.

It's not going to change though, it would be expensive and complicated and more fuss than it's worth because (and here's the kicker) everyone else speaks English!

Or wants to, and tries to, a month of living in Germany and I can count on one hand the number of times not speaking German has been a problem. The few times someone hasn't spoken English they've been able to find someone else who does quickly enough that I've barely had time to blush over the fact I'm useless.

Signs are written in English all over the world, I found a second hand English bookshop in Turkey in the middle of nowhere. When I went to Paris, determined to spend the 5 days practising my French, I opened my mouth and people switched to English. And I let them, it's easy when they speak better English than you speak French, Russian, Farsi or Swahili to just use that to communicate.

That's the crux of the problem, that's where the real guilt festers. It is bad that I don't speak a second language, but it's so much worse because they all speak mine. And do it fantastically, I've had conversations about Charles Dickens with French girls who've never left the country and I'm not even sure who the French equivalent of Dickens would be, Zola? Hugo? Certainly not author's I'd dream of reading in the orignal French with any hope of understanding.

I do try, I know a couple of phrases but it never feels like enough, Please and Thank You are essentials and a good grasp of charades helps. I have my collection of grammar books and phrase books and try to understand and put things into practise but it's never the same knowing it in your room to sactually using it on the street.

Do you speak a second language, or are you guilty or relying on the fact other people speak English too?



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