A Secret Language and A Golden Tongue: Why I’m Glad I Speak English

Three weeks ago I was lamenting the fact that I don’t have a secret language.

On a cramped minibus riding across southern Thailand, the entire populace of the rickety old transport was rattling off personal conversations in their varying mother tongues. Demonstratives and adjectives hurtled through the air in Finnish, Yiddish, Khmer, Slovak, and Thai. The car was a chaotic cacophony of linguistic splendor. When a statement had to be made to the group as a whole, however, the default global language of English was the medium of choice. All in attendance switched from mother tongue to the global tongue, and understood the message loud and clear. They then went back to their respective native languages, or as I like to call it, their secret language.

English students in Phnom Penh, Cambodia

The fascinating and alluring aspect of the secret language, the sex appeal to it if you will, is that they could be talking about anything and be getting away with it. They could simply be recounting the previous day’s activities, or they could be discussing the bald spot on the Thai driver while seated directly behind him. Or perhaps lewd and promiscuous acts rarely, if ever mentioned in public. For all we know, two people next to each other could be calling the other a smelly whale in a blatantly audible tone, and neither would have any idea.

Lamentably, however, I don’t have a secret language. It seems that all travelers have learned my secret language. If I call the person next to me a smelly whale, I’ll be sure to hear about it. While the convenience of having the rest of the globe default towards my verbiage is appreciated at times, I lust for the secretive, sadistic possibilities that could be provided by a secret language of my choosing. Oh the fun I could have!

I have since realized, however, that I possess something much more valuable than the entertainment that a secret language may provide. If you are reading this, you possess it as well. While it seems an overwhelming majority of the world has acquired a shrewd propensity for the English language, the reality is that the majority of the world, in a word, has not. A remarkably elite club, people the world over are dedicating their lives to gaining membership into the linguistic fraternity. In this sense I feel that I possess something far better than a secret language, in that I am blessed with a golden tongue.

You speak English make more money”. The author of this statement is a 4 year old girl. It is a simple truth and a lofty aspiration the world over. In the 24 hour workplace of the global economy, possessing a grasp of the English language is undoubtedly the skill with the greatest potential to change a person’s life. It is perhaps the one skill that can single-handedly raise a person out of poverty, and provide a life for them and their family they never thought possible.

The efforts put forth at learning in this part of the world are overwhelming. Families that bring home less than $5/day spend $.75 of that on a subscription to an English language newspaper. If there is an English station on television, it is nearly always turned on. Taxi drivers ask you to stay longer, just so they may talk with you a little longer. Strangers approach from every direction, eager for the opportunity to listen to your golden tongue. People work hard and save money not for a superfluous vehicle upgrade, but to simply take English language classes at night after work. For many it takes years to save for. For many others, it’s a dream that simply won’t ever materialize. The family I lived with in Cambodia had not seen their mother in over three years. She immigrated to France to send money home so that her daughters may attend English language school and have the life she never had.

So the rest of the world can have their secret languages and their clandestine conversations. I’m happy with my golden tongue.

Bottom photo by AntwerpenR

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