Koh Phi Phi Series No. 1: On Languages

While my colleagues were singing karaoke at the Christmas staff party, I was sleeping at the Phuket airport. And before I took that night nap I was looking at a bunch of fliers that I inevitably received with a free map. Half of those brochures were in Russian so I decided to amuse myself and try to read all the ‘stay at our hotel’ sentences out loud, just to make sure my Russian is as rusty as I expected.

It would have been truly entertaining for anyone to observe me from a distance: a person reading sentences at a 5 words per minute speed, with lots of confusion on her face, almost sweating.

That was my first encounter with a language I haven’t used in a long time, yet more linguistic encounters were awaiting on my trip to Koh Phi Phi, which all led to the writing of this amazing blog entry.

So I was sitting at the pier waiting for the ferry to finally bring me to the magical place where, perhaps, Dicaprio himself was about to greet me. And although my sleepy head wasn’t functioning to its maximum, I noticed two guys sitting close to me were speaking Brazilian Portuguese. Certainly, I couldn’t understand everything they were saying, yet I had a brief inner debate whether to let them know that I do speak – no matter how poorly – this language, too.

“Should I? Hmm… What the hell, why shouldn’t I?”

“Excuse me… Saõ vocês do Brasil?” I asked with a pretty fine pronunciation yet rather English syntax.

That single question was all it was needed to spark a two-hour non-stop chatting (in English, but who cares?) on that ferry ride, having some beers together while letting our legs hang from the edge of the ferry boat.

We even ended up celebrating Christmas Eve together at my couchsurfer’s place. A very South American company it was: three Argentine diving instructors, two Brazilian guys, a Brazilian girl (also a diving instructor – I’ll write more about this amazing occupation later), and, well, one Lithuanian to diminish the cultural hegemony a bit. I must say, if I didn’t speak Spanish and Portuguese at all, it would have been one weird and chat-less Christmas Eve for me.

Though at this point I have to throw a disclaimer in which will undermine the sort of cool image I’d like to create of myself: my Spanish turns out to be of a little use when people from Argentina are talking. It doesn’t even matter that my friends from Spain claim Argentine accent is the sexiest of all the Spanish-speaking countries. For me that sexiness, I guess, is well-hidden under the basic difficulty of decoding what these people are saying! Which I only see as a sign for me to move to South America for some time. It is also a sign I’ve become a determinist.

My point (there’s always a point, always):

Very often when asked why one studies or should study a foreign language a person responds with a clichéd sentence: ‘to get to know different cultures’, etc.

The next time someone asks me why I study or why one should study a foreign language I will respond in a very basic yet honest way:

You should study languages so that you could have a beer with Brazilian guys on a ferry ride to a paradise island and then have a Christmas Eve barbeque in an Argentine company.

Perhaps I will start my next English class with that.

3 Comments

  1. Ha! You’re speaking my language, Juste! (No pun intended, of course). You finally see what is to deal with an Argentine accent. Beautiful? Yes. Yet, when I left Argentina, the hardest person to understand was still my host brother.

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