Sometimes, I just wish I had a photographic memory like Sherlock’s. Oh the possibilities that it entails! Your brain will such be a powerful database and pulling data out would be so simple. You’d never forget anything. And one BIG advantage of it as well is that you can become a polyglot.
Jose Rizal, Philippines’ national hero is one. He could speak 22 different languages at ease (how he found the time and resources to do it back when there was no Internet, I’ll never know) and was very intellectual. I can just imagine that he had no problem traveling around Europe and meeting people and talking to them.
Having come from a country where everyone speaks English and where most of the ABC market would rather speak English than Filipino (hello, self!), I was never good at speaking my country’s language. Let’s not forget the fact that I’m also Chinese with the pressure of learning Mandarin embedded in my brain since I was young so I had to learn 2 Chinese dialects as well. But my love for English was stronger and I embraced anything English. I wanted to be English. I wasn’t exactly the most nationalistic citizen.
But then I was fortunate enough to be able to travel around different places of the globe when I entered my 20s. Starting with my student exchange stint in France back in 2010, I started to see more of the world. I thought that I’d be quite alright because I was very fluent in English and I knew that I’d be able to talk and walk my way. Then my travel Colombia happened. Then I went to Korea and Japan this year. Every time I went to a different country, my appreciation for English… kinda mellowed. I went to countries that prided themselves in speaking their national and native language (well okay, English is an official language in the Philippines but not the native language) and if you travel outside the capital city, there were hardly any people who spoke in English. It was SO DIFFICULT and there was a huge language barrier. There’d be an invisible wall created between me and the person I was talking to whenever I speak in English. I’ve always felt that people I spoke to would think “OH, ANOTHER TOURIST.” and have created this certain prejudice against me.
Well I guess it’s because I’ve always wanted to EXPERIENCE a city or a country like a local. I wanted to learn more about their history and the culture of the people. I didn’t want to just pass their country, take a photo and that’s it. I wanted to be an explorer and adventurer! Thankfully though, I was given the opportunity by the French Embassy to finally study French formally in Rouen, Normandy, France for 2 weeks last month from July 4-15. It was incredibly short but OH MY GOD did it open my eyes. It was like unearthing a treasure chest or getting hit on the head by a baseball. The convenience of speaking French, of learning a new language and being able to convey yourself in another the native language of a foreign country was so amazing. It was hard, don’t get me wrong. It was definitely hard but as I did have basic knowledge of some French words, I was able to get past my first week without much trouble.
God made me understand something in this trip. I’ve always wondered why He chose me and why He gave me this particular trip. It’s not like I’ve never been there but I now have a different view of traveling. If you’ve read my 10 Things We Wish We Knew Before Going To Korea post, my number one tip was to learn a bit of the language because of the language barrier. I just shrugged it off as a tip first but now I fully understand why learning the language of the place that you’ll travel to will make you fully appreciate the place. I found out that not everyone spoke English. The previous dormer of my host family was a Korean but she couldn’t speak English but knew how to speak fluent French so speaking to a Korean in French was mind boggling to me at first but then I thought about it afterwards and thought, “Man, that was cool.” Everything looked better when I thought things in French. French food became even French-ier when we tried ordering it in French and of course I was able to translate for my dad when my Airbnb host could hardly speak in English. It was also one of the best Airbnb experience ever as well.
Check out my post here about my experience of studying at a French Language School. I just needed to get this off my chest.
English now isn’t the most important language in the world. Some tout Mandarin that it’s the next universal language but I say that each language is important in its own right. Learning a new language will not only make you travel better but will make you live better as well. Learning is HARD. VERY HARD but this will make visiting a new country less daunting.
I cannot wait to learn my next language. English, Filipino/Tagalog, Fookien, Mandarn, and now French. Hoping to relearn Japanese or learn Spanish next time.
What are your thoughts on this? What languages are you interested in learning?
To the next adventure!