Myanmar Living

The Privilege of the English Language

English is my first language. Bahmianese is what I call my Bahamian dialect. I know bits and pieces of Chinese and Spanish from when I studied them, and I remember a handful of foods in French from my days of culinary French class. But thank God for so many apps that do translations. For the rest of the world outside of the US, knowing more than one language is pretty common and I wish that I had taken more time to learn another language more in depth or at least have more opportunities to practice it. 

I always used to tell myself that if I moved to a foreign country, I would learn the language and try to become at least conversational, and now here I am, 8 months into my first year in Myanmar and I can’t ask for a drink or where the toilet is. It’s really a shame because I had it on my New Year’s Resolutions to learn more words, but I really haven’t given it the time or energy it deserves. 

Knowing English is a privilege and should not be an expectation in a foreign country. I mean sure, with globalization, it’s the most widely learned second language (according to the great Google). English was named the world’s most influential language with about 378 millions speakers of language. Manadarin (1.2 billion) followed by Spanish (442 million) are the top two most widely spoken languages. 

And yet, with all that, us privileged foreigners get upset when, in a non-native English speaking country, we go into a business for their services and the English proficiency is very limited. I mean the audacity of them! How dare they not know English up to our standards? They should speak English! Everyone does! Sounding ridiculous yet?

And yet in unspoken words or discussions amongst other expats, the point about level of English comes up. I can’t speak for others but I have to remind myself that my first language, my westernized upbringing and amazing Bahamian culture doesn’t make me better. Of course I think about all the ways things could be better if they just did it the way I wanted or if the understood a bit more English. In reality, me not knowing enough Burmese to communicate with them is my problem and not theirs.

On the plus side, I do know handful of Burmese numbers so please applaud my mediocrity! And at the very least I say hi and thank you in Myanmar language. Baby steps. I’ll have lots of time during the summer to work on it.

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