Thursday, December 6, 2012

Expat Blog hop Revisited - Looking into the archives

A  "foreigner" is lost in the heart of a random speaking country. 

Desperate to ask a question to a group of bystanders he asks  "Sorry, do you speak English?".They look at each other amazed and after exchanging a few words one of them replied "No. Sorry, No speak English "The "foreigner" insists and asks" Sprechen Sie Deutsch "? The wonder grows between the group and then they begin to guess and speculate which  strange language the tourist may be speaking, so one of them replies, "No sir espique not that!" But the "foreigner" is not happy with the response and tries again. This time it's the turn of  French: "Excuse moi, parlez vous francais?" And this time the only thing he gets in response is a hand gesture that indicates exactly the same answer to the two previous questions. 
The frustrated "foreigner" with his head down, walks away, trying to find better luck by asking a young man smoking a cigarette not far away. 
One of the members of the group comments as he leaves : "Did you see that tourist!" "How many languages does he speak!" and another replies: "Well, it didn't serve him much" 

He who believes that the story ends here is wrong. This story is a joke that went prowling the Web for some time. And while I also could harvest more than a few laughs with it, It turns out that the young man, smoking a cigarette did speak English, and ultimately resulted in the "foreigner" achieving his goal. Finding somebody who could sell his multi million dollar products.

English is pretty widespread and the Netherlands is no exception, nearly everyone speaks it. But in some places in the Netherlands and the world,  this is not the case, so if you don’t mind restricting yourself to the people who normally work in the tourist industry, then you can indeed get by fine just with English, and you can even make lifelong and deep friendships with those locals but it just isn't the same..

There are many expats who actually do speak the local language of the country they are in. These are mainly the expats, who like me don't surround themselves in English and an English bubble. None of them are language experts but they too realise that if they don't learn the local lingo then it is going to limit their experience in the country.

Making friends and being part of the country you live in is something important to do if you are an expat.
If you think you can do this by only using English in any non-restricted way , then I would have to say you are living in a dream.

Yes, you can make great friends with them, but after that you can’t talk with most people normally in terms of getting to know them. Knowing how to count to 100 so you can buy things in the shop (to some people, this will count as learning the lingo and fitting in) doesn’t count in terms of you really trying to get to know them.

The real reason these people do not bother to learn the language is because of excuses. Plenty of people say oh I would love to, but  I don't have time or money. Another good excuse is the “language gene” I am not good at learning languages, only a  few people in the world can speak languages so well ( just me… and over a billion others who genuinely speak more than one language) I am too old, is another good excuse. I was 32  when I started learning Dutch – it’s a good thing I ignored that excuse. I’ll only be in the country for a few months, so it’s not worth the effort but think about what you could get out of those few months if you did make the effort!

Some expats tend to hang out only  with other English speaking expats and complain about how hard it is to learn  the local language. They chat to their partner/husband/friends in English. All of the local friends they have also talk to them in English. They only actually use the local language when they have to ;  English is actually the language they socialise and relax in most of the time.
I have met some expats who have lived in the Netherlands for 10 years, and after just a few months I already spoke better Dutch than them!! In fact, 4 months after coming here I phoned our local town hall to inquire about language lessons and was told they weren't for me because I spoke more Dutch than most of them who graduated from the lessons themselves. 
Lots of expats don't  seem to see that their all and only English speaking gatherings and social circles are protecting them from ever speaking , even possibly mastering the local language. Most believe they already have a good grasp of the local language to get by, so why would you need any more?

Dont get me wrong English speaking circles and groups of friends are great, I am actively involved with an expat English speaking group here in Breda but it isnt limited to only expats, we have many Dutch involved and I for one don't only limit myself to these events only.

It is necessary to build a healthy balance of the two and only when you truly make an effort to learn the local lingo will you ever really really fit in.

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