Friday, January 06, 2012

So It Wasn't Just Me

You know how I told you that I was having a different experience in Estonia that others said that were having?

How I was not finding it to be true that people all spoke English, or automatically switched to English, or refused to speak Estonia with you once you made a mistake?

I wondered and wondered why I was having a different experience.

Turns out, it isn't just me.

My wife makes a concerted effort to use her Estonian in public. She has only had four months of study, so not even as much as I had by my immersion trip.

And you know what happens?

People speak Estonian to her. And if she stuggles for a word, they give it to her.

In Estonian.

And then they keep talking to her.

In Estonian.

So it isn't just me.

It really is that people appreciate you making an effort. And that they will be nicer to you if you do.

I am still glad I learned the language. I am glad my wife is, that my APAO learned it and that my incoming APAO is learning it. I think it matters. Because we are diplomats. It isn't our job to make people to do things our way by force. Our job is to convince people to work with us, as partners. To explain the American message. To serve the best interests of America.

You can't do that if you come at people from a position of disrespect. Learning their language is a huge step in showing you appreciate and respect them. And it yields fruit, not just now, but in the long run.

1 comment:

Mochi said...

I really like this blog post because I am going through language challenges at post right now. It's a different twist for specialists, as our positions are not (more often) language designated, so learning the language for me, is on my own efforts while I am living at post. Luckily there are language programs offered at post, but in my case, the classes haven't started up yet due to the long holiday break. I've heard mixed messages from those who've taken the language course at post. Some say it was extremely helpful, whereas others say it barely got them by.

I do agree that being conversant in a language shows respect, which is why I am making it my personal goal to try and get at least to the level where I am comfortable greeting someone.