Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Pineapple Shmineapple

Pinapple: that acidic, luscious fruit that in its perfect form is the ultimate blend of sweet and sour. That fruit near and dear to my heart that has always been a pineapple - I can no longer fully accept to be a pineapple. Now that my mind has been opened to the fascinating realm of language – I have learned to accept that all names are arbitrary, and a pineapple is just as equally a ‘suparod,' or hundreds of other names that exist for it.

After years of studying multiple languages by the book in the classroom, I was convinced my brain was just not wired to grasp more than one language. With enough effort and within the right environment, I have found that I am capable of stepping outside of my comfort zone and speaking a foreign language. After living in Thailand for over 4 months in a town where most do not speak English, I have learned enough Thai to get by comfortably. Although I may butcher the tonal aspect despite my best efforts, this is the most of a language that I have ever known or used. I have found my success to be a combination of environment, conscious effort, and most importantly: vulnerability. It is all about putting oneself out there for better or for worse. As my vocabulary knowledge slowly expanded, the intimidation of actually speaking with natives didn’t disappear until I forced myself to repeatedly make a fool of myself.

And it is that first successful interaction in a foreign language that is sensationally rewarding and thus addicting – making you crave more. Last week, I communicated with a teacher over dinner using my poor Thai skills entirely – and that felt like a minor achievement. Although my Thai knowledge is still unimpressive, I have hope that I can increase my vocabulary even more as I continue to live a life amongst the Thais.

There is something special about communicating with Thais using their native tongue. Most Thais who do not know English instinctually shy away from speaking with “farangs” (foreigners). Thais understand that outside of their country, their language is relatively dead.  They see farangs come in and out of their country, most not taking the time to learn the basic “hello” and “thank you.” So, when they encounter a farang who has learnt even a small amount of their language, it is, in a way, a form of great respect for their culture and tradition. Despite the impracticability of knowing Thai outside of this country, interacting with the locals in their language and witnessing how much pleasure it brings them, makes my life that much more worthwhile in the here and the now.

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