I watched a report on the news yesterday. It was about an Irish girl who has gone missing in Malaysia. The local police chief made a statement, and he made it in English. Admittedly, he had a strong accent, but I could easily understand everything he said. It occurred to me that if a Malaysian girl had gone missing in England, or Ireland, then our respective police chiefs would have been highly unlikely to have been able to present a report in her language, and would have almost certainly used an interpreter, or not bothered to refer to her native language in any way.
Not for the first time in my life, I thought how lucky I am to have been born as an English-speaker. For as long as I can remember, English has been widely-spoken, all over the world. It is very unusual for someone to be interviewed, and for them not to be replying in English, whatever their first language might be. Actors and actresses, film stars, sports stars, famous writers, and even some politicians, all managed to communicate in English, wherever they were born and brought up.
I have travelled to many countries where English is not the first language. But I never once failed to make myself understood, or find someone who could speak to me in English, however rudimentary their knowledge of the language. I learned French at school, and by the age of 18, I could speak it quite well. But when I visited countries where that was the language, I hardly needed to use it. As soon as they realised I was from England, people would happily converse with me in my language. I have even met people in Holland and Belgium who spoke English with such a good accent, they could have passed for British, Canadian, or American quite easily.
Yet so few people in this country can understand another language, let alone speak one. Yes, we are lazy, and with good reason. People speak English everywhere, so we don’t have to bother to try. Unless we really want to.
Then I discovered blogging, in 2012. So much good writing, and the majority of it in English. I have blogging friends who live in The Philippines, Vietnam, Holland, Italy, Malaysia, India, Sri Lanka, Iceland, Scandinavia, Pakistan, Germany, Greece, France, Portugal, and even all over Africa. Yet they all blog in English. They understand everything I write in my posts and comments, and reply in perfect English too. I installed the ‘Translate’ widget, and almost never have to use it. (With some rare exceptions for Chinese and Japanese characters)
Those of us born in countries where English is the ‘first language’ are very fortunate, and we should be grateful.
I know I am.