The importance of speaking multiple languages

My third month in Thailand is over and December is beginning. It´s a weird time of the year to be away from home, since I was always surrounded by family and friends during Christmas. This month has been a bit different in comparison to the past two. Things are no longer new and unfamiliar and everyday life is beginning. This has been both exciting but has also given me a lot to think about. I have had some realizations about what I want from life but also what kind of person I want to be. But I can also feel myself changing. When I look back on the person, I saw someone three months ago and saw someone who was incredibly intimidated by her surroundings and unsure of herself. I don’t claim to not be those things anymore, but I can see that I have made progress in adapting to my surroundings.

One of the biggest sources of insecurity for me is that it's difficult for me to tell what people expect of me. In your home country you are accustomed to what people expect of you. I don´t know this in Thailand. It can be extremely frustrating to be in a situation and know that you are expected to behave in a certain way, but you don’t know how. It can furthermore be difficult to communicate in a language that is not your mother tongue. There are certain expressions or emotions that are unique to a language and can therefore not be shared with people who don´t speak it. Even though the teachers and students try their best to understand us I sometimes have the feeling of there being a barrier which cannot be broken.

But I have also experienced that language can bring people together. Our school has organized Thai classes for us. Last week we had our first session with Kru Neu. She taught us some basic sentences and vocabulary with the focus being on pronunciation.

It was so much fun and every time we got something right, she was very excited for us. I had a similar experience today with Kru Jae and Kru Kam. They both had a lot of fun trying to teach us the difference in the pronunciation of “horse”, “coming” and “dog”. They all have the same sound of “ma” in different tones. This was very fun but also incredibly difficult. We on the other hand taught them some basic German. Such as “Hallo”, “Ich heiße” and “Ich bin eine Lehrerin ''. One thing I have learned is that it´s much more important to try your best. You don't have to get it correct on your first try, it's just important that you give it a shot.

My English teacher used to say that language is the key to the world. This always made sense to me, but there is a difference between accepting a statement given to you by a teacher and experiencing it yourself. Every time I try to speak Thai, even if I fail miserably, people acknowledge me for trying and are happy to help. As Edward De Waal put it:

Ann-Cathrine Wagner