English As A Foreign Language

I just found an online review of a hotel in Spain. The reviewer was quite annoyed that the place was staffed by people speaking "a foreign language."

I wonder. Could that language have been, say, SPANISH? Because I have to insist that Spanish is not a foreign language in Spain. English is a foreign language in Spain.

It reminded me of the time a tablemate at dinner on a cruise along the Mexican Riviera complained about a cabbie in Mazatlan who didn’t speak English. "Not one word!" she said indignantly.

I couldn’t think of one word to say to her about that myself. But now I have thought of some.

Let’s all help dispel the stereotype of the yankee / gringo who believes that everyone on Earth speaks English — and they’ll understand it, too, if it’s shouted loudly enough. I don’t think most of us are like that, whether we speak a second language or not. So let’s prove it.

Why don’t we all:

    • Learn a few words of the local language when visiting a country where the people don’t speak English. And let’s use those words. The effort is usually appreciated, even if the execution is lacking. (Besides, our foreign accent can be quite charming.)

    • Try to remember not to start speaking to people in English unless we know they speak it. Parlez vouz anglais? Habla ingles? These are phrases we can remember.

    • Vow never to make fun of a foreign accent. Unless you’re fluent in another language, you have no idea how difficult it is to learn one. (OK, you can make fun of Arnold Schwarzenegger. But not in Austria.)

I remember once when the husband and I were sitting in a seafood restaurant on Cape Ann and a man barged into the dining room with the hostess running behind him. He strode up to the table of the startled couple next to us, pointed to the lobster on the man’s plate and said something in German. I guess he wanted a lobster.

On one hand, I thought that was pretty rude. He could have brought a German-English dictionary, or done some entertaining charade where he waved his hands around like claws. On the other hand, I’ve seen Americans abroad do that sort of thing, too.

We can do better than that, nyet?


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