This past week I was on a cruise with my family. Although the majority of passengers were American, the staff was decidedly international. The trivia leaders were from Mexico and the UK. The cruise director was from Peru and the wonderful woman who gave me a birthday massage was from South Africa. With waiters from the Philippines and Indonesia, we attuned our ears to many different accents throughout the week.
On the elevator, labeled as “lobby lifts”, we ascended with a mother and son one day. Whereas the mother was speaking German as she pointed out some of the sights on through the glass elevator, her twelve-year-old son was responding in English to her. We were not part of the conversation, so this was not a translation exercise on his part. I found it interesting that they were speaking two different languages to each other as they conversed.
My granddaughter noticed the international flare on the ship as well and asked how all these different people knew English. We explained it is part of the school systems around the world to teach English. I must admit that our schools do not give as much credence to instilling the importance of other languages to our students and expect everyone else to know English so we can communicate with them.
As an English teacher, I insisted students use English in my classes but that did not mean I was opposed to learning or speaking other languages. Whenever someone spoke to another student in Spanish, Romanian, or Tongan (the main choices of other languages in my school), I’d rattle something off in German to them to demonstrate the rudeness of speaking a language in front of others they do not understand. Thankfully for me, few students took German in my school and my rudimentary German phrases could go unchecked.
On the cruise excursion tours, it was not uncommon to hear our Mexican guides speak in English with a smattering of Spanish thrown in from time to time. Sometimes he was talking to the driver or a passer-by but I was impressed at the switching back and forth with ease. I think if we could communicate more readily with all our neighbors, we would be more open to understanding each other too. At the very least, visit as much of the world as we can manage so we can “walk a mile in their shoes” as much as possible.