Travel is a reminder of how lucky I am to have been born somewhere where I learned to speak English. I know that English is commonly used in business and tourism throughout the world, though it’s still always a bit of a surprise to arrive somewhere so far from home and find it so readily.
I certainly don’t think the language is superior to any others. It’s more like firsthand experiencing the history of the British Empire.
That bloody legacy means speaking English today is kind of like winning the lottery – a chance of fate that can change your fortunes.
The Elephant Nature Park program I participated in was run in English – the other people alongside me were from Argentina, Spain, Germany and the United States. Our common language was English. The Argentinian and I spoke French together. The Spanish and Argentinian spoke Spanish, and the tour guide and the mahouts spoke in Thai despite it being both of their second languages – the guide was from a hill tribe in Thailand, and the mahouts were from Myanmar.
Sharing of many languages is such a rich experience.
The guide told me a bit of his story – not in a consistent narrative, though this is what I managed to put together from the tidbits. He grew up in a tribe in the jungle and his parents decided to split up. He didn’t tell me why, though indicated that it significantly affected his life. As the eldest, he took his siblings to the city (Chiang Mai) so that he could learn English and earn money to send his sister to school. He had studied as Buddhist monk to learn English, Muay Thai boxed competitively, worked as a trekking guide, and had found his way to the Elephant Nature Park 3 months ago to work there as a guide. He said that his grandfather had used elephants in teak logging and he thought that the practice was cruel – he wanted to make amends for the history of his family.
This very young man (23) had found every way to learn English so that he could take care of his family. He had no access to resources, didn’t own a phone, and had no formal education, though had many life skills – and most importantly, resilience and the belief that he could figure it out. I really admired this young man’s tenacity. It just goes to show what you can accomplish when you set your mind to it. His goal was send his sister to school, study English overseas for a year and then head back to his tribe, where he said ‘you don’t need money to survive’.
Yes, just skills. Many skills.
This experience reminded me of two things:
2. Diversity and language are so important. I hope my home province of New Brunswick becomes ever more accepting of French as our official second language. It’s a beautiful thing to travel the world and communicate in more than 1 language, and I’m able to do that based on where I was born and the decisions my parents made.
While I may never win an actual lottery (mostly because I never buy tickets), it’s been a great reminder not to waste the lottery I already won.