Now I know I shouldn’t assume everyone can speak English, but I can’t help but be surprised whenI encounter foreigners traveling abound without the ability to either a) speak the language of the country they are visiting or b) speak English. I have been a tourist many times, and while I was never able to speak Viatnamese, Czech, or Thai – I was able to get by on my life-saving knowledge of English.
There have been a couple of occasions recently, more frequently than I’d imagine, where I have been out with friends and encountered foreigners in Asuncion. Now that statement alone is rare enough, as tourists are not as common here as say, armadillos, but still they do exist in small numbers in limited locations. Most recently, I have run into Germans traveling throughout the country, (as mentioned in past entries Paraguay has a high number of Germans living here, which makes it all the more enticing for German travelers,) who struggled to be understood in their elementary-at-best English.
I don’t mean to be heartless, or even suggest that the world needs to speak my language, and it’s even quite endearing to hear someone try so hard to be understood in a language that they are grasping for straws at (I mean, hell I even tried pulling out a few basic, and I’m sure terribly pronounced, German phrases,) but English just seems so practical!
Take the business world, for instance. I work at an international organization where many people in my local office don’t speak English, (much to the dismay of our director,) but where about 95% of inter-office interactions occur in English. We even have bi-weekly status updates and monthly communications conference calls within the Latin American and U.S. offices, where (almost) all of the participants are native Spanish speakers, and yet the calls are more often than not conducted in plain old English. How are you to survive in that kind of environment without being able to navigate the prominent language?
I’ve watched meetings between Germans, Swiss, Paraguayans, and Americans go down where the common ground is my mother tongue. I could not be more grateful that I speak a language with such a huge influence on the world at large, and I still find it strange when people are choosing not to take on the challenge of learning such an intricate, and yet beautiful, language. It’s not to say that languages are easy for everyone, but if you really want to be successful in a big way, particularly on an international scale, you really don’t have much of a choice. English is, after all, the official language of the world.