Friday, August 23, 2013

The Gift of English

When I stop and think about it, being a native English teacher really is a unique situation. While I generally think it is unfortunate that most English speakers don't learn other languages, the truth is that we have been given a gift that we scarcely realize. We speak the international language that is desired in every country, and this simple fact can make all the difference.

Over the past week or so, I have journeyed back to the city where I taught for three years in the Czech Republic. Cheb is a smallish town of about 33,000 (according to Wikipedia) and it is all easily walkable. Again, I would have some great pictures to post, if only... Anyhow, the first time I went back I visited another teacher who has been there for 8 years, and is about to return to the US in a couple of weeks. While I was there with her, she was in the process of saying goodbye to friends and former students, and I tagged along with her.

When I was there teaching, I didn't think about how unique our situation was. It didn't take long for a large portion of the community to know us. Whether we were in grocery stores, cares, or on the street, we were recognizable as "the Americans." We had a certain position that was respected, and curious at the same time. We were allowed a level of freedom that most other language speakers would not have. For instance, if a German person came to teach in a medium sized US town, few people beyond that person's students would know who he/she was. They might be noticed for their accent, but that is about all. And the likelihood of them forming friendships with their students, and spending time with them outside of class would be slim to none.

I am not trying to say that we native English speakers are in any way better than speakers of other languages, only that we have been given a tremendous opportunity to see the world, and be welcomed into a global community. It makes me wish more of us were willing to go out of our comfort zones and be changed by the beautiful people and cultures at the world has to offer. I am so thankful to have been, and through my husband to continue to be, a part of the Czech culture. To anyone out there who has the freedom to pack up their lives and see the world, I say, go, teach, and I so doing, learn.

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