Language Problems

(For WAG #6: Overheard, in which the goal is to eavesdrop and notice how people really talk. I had some problems, as you'll see, and so shattered the rules into tiny, glittering pieces on the floor. Wear shoes.)

I can't understand you. I've lived here 4 years, even went to school to learn your language, but I can't understand you. You're not speaking your language.

I realize they didn't teach me about languages in the US. Oh, they teach the big ones - Spanish, French, maybe Chinese - but nobody is expected to actually use them. When someone, or some country, doesn't speak English, the typical American sentiment is, "Why don't they just learn English?"

I didn't want to be like that, so when I came here I determined to learn Thai the best I could. For you. I've done that, am still doing that, but though Thai is the national language, it's hardly the language everyone speaks.

Even in my own house, Thai is everyone's second language. My wife and I speak English. My oldest daughter grew up speaking Karen. My youngest daughter speaks Lisu with her mom, Kham Mueang with her school friends, and English with me; she only uses Thai with her teachers.

By your rhythms and sounds, I know you're speaking Kham Mueang. I recognize it, even know a word or two, but I don't understand you. In northern Thailand, everyone speaks Kham Mueang. Everyone but me. In the market, if my face didn't already mark me as an outsider, my use of the so-called "national language" would.

It's not really fair, you know? Why can't you all just learn English?


Other participants in WAG #6:

How to Join the Writing Adventure Group

Cora Zane

Christine Kirchoff

Nancy J Parra

Mickey Hoffman

Sharon Donovan

Iain Martin



Jon Strother




Nancy said...

Hahaha! I totally understand this, even though here I think there is only one language. Plus slang. But people sure don't use the words we learned in school.

Natalie Whipple said...

Hehe, yes, we Americans are spoiled. So many countries have several dialects and languages to deal with. I think Africa is quite daunting in that respect as well.

Good on ya for trying to learn the languages though! Very awesome.

Anonymous said...

I really liked this piece, even though you didn't write down what was said! You did a nice job of sharing your world... great post!

Adam Heine said...

That's the problem, Nixy. I don't know what she said! I couldn't have written it down if I wanted to.

Here. There was another conversation snippet I overheard, but I couldn't think of anything to say about it and, since it was in Thai, I didn't think it was terribly useful for my own dialogue: วันที่สิบหก หลังสงกรานต์ ("The 16th, after Songkran [Thai New Year]").

Mickey said...

That was funny. I'm frustrated for you.

Anonymous said...

Interesting piece. :-)

J. M. Strother said...

I really liked this. I never realized it was like that, though probably should have figured. Probalby like that in most places.

Heck, I turn on subtitles when I watch a British mystery - and they're speaking English!

Nice writing.

Lulu said...

A great post. But it doesn't engender that much sympathy. Sounds as though you are having a remarkable experience, even with the language challenge. What a great peak into a different world.

Nancy J. Parra said...

Frustrating not to "understand"- very nice blog post. It gave a real feel for being there with you.