How to Survive When You Only Speak One Language…

How to Survive When you Only Speak One Language...

I was twenty years-old and excited at the prospect of studying French for an entire summer in the south of France. Until I met my teacher. “Mademoiselle La Blonde”, said she, “you speak French like a vulgarian”.

“Repeat after me”, she ordered. “Mardi. No, not like that! Mardi! Encore – Mardi!” Over and over my Quebec accent infuriated her. Finally, I could stand it no longer:

“Tuesday”, I shouted. My classmates laughed.

And that is when the epiphany came. I had no aptitude for learning foreign languages – absolutely none. Nada. Rien. And I had just wasted fourteen years of my life trying to cram French into my head only to be labelled a vulgarian. I was stung. Why had my Canadian French teachers sent me out into the world to be attacked and ridiculed? In hindsight, it’s obvious that my summer school teacher must have been jilted by a lover from Montreal — but she was right. My French was horrible.

Never one to squander my resources or throw good money after bad, I decided to change my approach. Why bother studying languages that I would never master? What was the point in being able to ask a question if I couldn’t understand the answer? Why did I want to be distracted by conversations taking place at restaurant tables around me or know when I was being insulted? When I heard a friend being told by a Parisian store clerk that his shop didn’t sell clothes for “les elephants”, I was convinced. Much better if I remained unilingual.

I admit that speaking only one language can be a challenge, especially in Asia. One must become hyper-observant. To get home from work when I lived in Tokyo, I had to look for the train with the upside down hat over the one-legged stickman. Once it cost me huge taxi fare when I accidentally got on the train with the two-legged stickman — but generally, my technique worked fine.

There are also times when confusion arises. When I first took up jogging in the Philippines many years ago, I was surprised to find people waving at me and calling out “asshole”. Well, that’s not very nice, I thought. Again and again old ladies and young children called me an asshole as I passed their huts on jungle trails. Maybe jogging is tabu in the Philippines, I speculated. Only later did I realize they were referring to my dog who was my running companion. Dog in Tagalog is “aso”.

Now I am not recommending that anyone else follow my example. If you can, learn as many languages as possible. But if there is someone out there who is as linguistically challenged as I am — it IS possible to survive with English only.

Dangerous animal-crossing signs are often written in English, enabling us to avoid being fatally trampled while going about our daily business. Fortunately, the word ATM is universally recognized, as is the gesture of raising one’s index finger and pointing it at an empty glass. As long as you have money and drink, what more do you need?


7 Comments on “How to Survive When You Only Speak One Language…

  1. I, too, had the experience of having my Quebecois accent sneered at by a teacher whose study had been in Paris. Language snobs, they are. Yet while on a cruise to the Marquesas, I found no trouble at all in communicating with French speakers from France. They were delighted with my French, limited as it is. The accent is unimportant. What is important is the message, as your misunderstanding of the word ‘aso’ so amusingly attests.

    • Lucky you, Phyllis, for getting to see the Marquesas!! I’m glad there were no language snobs on your cruise. They really are annoying…

  2. Pingback: How to Survive When You Only Speak One Language...

  3. LOL. I was stunned. I thought the locals actually called out asshole. Because they dont do such bad behavior. I remember in China, I would hear people say “garment,” when they were actually saying “government.” “Massage” for “message.” And so on

    • Thanks for your comment Elmer. I was so confused because they were smiling as they called out what I thought was “asshole”. I was very happy to find out it was all about my dog!

    • Thank you! Yes, that was pretty funny — once I figured it out. I’m glad that Filipinos are able to understand me, most of the time…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Caro the Expat

Ang pamamasyal ng bagong salta - the wanderings of a newcomer




Travel Blog of a Budget Traveler sharing stories on travel, books & Vegetarian Food

An Indian Summer™

From maple leaves to mango trees. I'm a Canadian woman living on a tropical island in the Philippines. Welcome to my world...

Kathleen Ford's Travel and Adventure Blog

From maple leaves to mango trees. I'm a Canadian woman living on a tropical island in the Philippines. Welcome to my world...

Naked Ideation

Dive the Mind

The Displaced Nation

A home for international creatives

the dingo was here

Howling on the Internet

The girl with the broken wing and a mermaid tail

a crazy girls thoughts, dreams, inspirations, rantings and her nonsense blah's

Silver Lining

The blog dedicated to finding positivity, optimism and gratitude in our daily lives.

Dustin N Salzano

dustin salzano, salzano dustin, dustin n salzano

A Note From Abroad

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sailaway from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” ~ Mark Twain

Optimistic Kid

Be Somebody


This Blog site is about "the view" according to Estee...


Fotografía y viajes

Eastern Sea Star

This site will feature a wide variety of posts


From maple leaves to mango trees. I'm a Canadian woman living on a tropical island in the Philippines. Welcome to my world...

%d bloggers like this: