Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Why Learn to Speak?

This morning I was in a local town talking with a relative of Sasha's.  I have know this elderly lady for years, but have not seen her for about a month.  She was impressed by what she noted as marked improvement in my Bulgarian.  I told her that she should not be surprised.  I live in Bulgaria now, I should learn Bulgarian.  I reminded her of one of her family members who years ago moved to Minnesota speaking literally no English.  She now speaks great English and is even an American citizen.

If someone lives in a country for an extended period of time they have to learn the language if they hope to interact with the culture.  It surprises me when I meet people living in America who have been there for years and do not speak English.  I am equally surprised when I meet Americans who have lived in another country for years and do not speak the local language.

No one expects it to come quickly.  It takes babies years to learn their first language, and different children learn at different rates regardless of intelligence.  Yet, if a child never learns to speak then we all assume that there is either a physical or mental problem preventing him from learning the language.

An adult not learning the language of his host country is usually not a result of a physical or mental problem, but rather it usually stems from a lack of need.  This was a danger for me coming to Bulgaria.  I have a wife who can translate everything for me.  I also live in a city where many people speak English.  Yet, I do not want to make a little English bubble and live in my English speaking world.  I want to be able to have conversations with little old ladies who speak no English.  I want to be a part of Bulgarian culture and life.  I want to be able to talk to Bulgarians in the language that resonates deep in their hearts, because the message I have to share with them is a message for their hearts.

Why put in the effort to learn the language of your home country?  Why learn to speak?  I rather ask, "Why not learn to speak?"


  1. Are you a writer or something? :) You put things really well.

  2. Thanks for the kind words Joy. Nope, I'm not a writer. At least not by profession.