Travel the world

Speaking Three Languages

There’s a joke that goes around quite frequently:

What do you call someone who speaks three languages?

What do you call someone who speaks two languages?

What do you call someone who speaks one language?

There are lots of people in Boquete who move there from the United States. These are people who have had homes and have moved their entire lives to Boquete and have lived here for years. (I’m not talking about newcomers.)

When we were here in November, 2009 Carlos (from Cafe Ruiz) was explaining to us that sometimes, these people have so little understanding or knowledge of Spanish that they will actually outburst with “Why don’t you speak English?” As if a person in Panama should choose to communicate with them in a language other than their own

(For those who don’t know, the dominant language of Panama is Spanish).

Some of these people are so stubborn about not learning Spanish that they will pay for thei gardeners/housekeepers/maids/etc. to learn English. While I’m sure their intentions are good (a thought which is laziness disguised as charity – somewhere down among the philosophical equivalent of “I’m being charitable by helping the local poor people learn something”), choosing not to make any effort to learn Spanish alongside their gardener or maid (learning English) is not only lazy, but it’s rude.

If you decide to live in a country other than the one where you were born, you should learn the language of that country.

If it is necessary for you to move to another country for social, political, or economic reasons, you should learn the language of that country.

If you are going to be spending any length of time in another country (longer than two weeks), you should work to learn the language of that country.

Doing anything else is just lazy.

Worse than that, it’s the kind of carelessness that leads to misunderstandings and cultural biases based on nothing more than mis-communication.

6 thoughts on “Speaking Three Languages

  1. Bocas Charly

    Guys, how true!! I totally support your stance on learning the language of the country!!
    It also greatly increases your ability to assimilate into the culture!! I sure do love Bocas, but sometimes, I do get a little frustrated because there IS so much English spoken here, that it almost negates my NEED for Spanish!!
    Hey, we have only had a couple of black outs since you left!
    Hope your travels are going well.

  2. Jonathan (in Boquete)

    Hey Charly!
    Glad the electricity has stayed on!
    We definitely are enjoying our travels. We’re actually in Boquete for the next week and a half, house-sitting for some friends who live here. Sure would love to get back to Bocas… don’t know if it will happen right now though… So much of the world to see still, and we’re really enjoying a quiet place to be living and working for the next couple of weeks up in the hills.

  3. Jonathan (in Boquete)

    Hey Chris!
    Carrie and I are actually in Boquete for the next week and a half, house-sitting at David and Cora’s. Would be great to get together with you some time and see how you’re doing and hear about all you’ve been up to!

  4. Marty

    Have college entrance requirements changed since I retired? I thought American Universities required 2 yrs. of a foreign language to get into their B.A. programs? If that’s true, then there are A LOT OF AMERICANS here that at one time took foreign language, I know I did in high school and college. I think it’s some what of a misconception that American’s only speak English.
    ALSO, your ocmments about people should learn the language in the country in which they live, ALSO WORKS BOTH WAYS–it can apply to others
    living in America that don’t attempt to learn
    English, which is quite the case with the adults that come here. Many rely on their children to communicate for them as well as take on an “adult” almost parental role in the household which is very unfair & unfortunate for the child or children–too much responsibility & pressure put on them. Es muy verdad, no?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *