The Empowerment that comes from Being Bilingual

The Empowerment that comes from Being Bilingual

Having taught English as a Second Language in some form or another for the better part of my career, it is nice to know that what I do for my livelihood makes a difference. Like it or not, English is still the lingua franca in most parts of the world. It most definitely is here in Thailand.

I speak Spanish close to fluently, and because of that I have been able to communicate with Spanish speakers here in Thailand that did not know English or Thai. It’s been odd using my basic Thai to be the Span/Thai interpreter. Being able to speak in Spanish has opened doors for me in many countries in Latin America, and the US, but I was surprised to find that it helped me here.

Lisandro from Argentina - on the train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai

This is Lisandro from Argentina. We met on the overnight train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai (back when they were still running before the floods). He had been working in New Zealand for a few years before heading to SE Asia. He and I mainly talked about Vipassana Meditation that he had just done, and I was about to do. He told me that learning English was hugely important for him and gave him a world full of opportunities  that he wouldn’t have had otherwise.

Atsuko from Japan - eating sushi in Chiang Mai

Atsuko and got her Masters degree in sociolinguistics in England. We met on the Vipassana meditation retreat outside of Chiang Mai. She has been teaching Japanese in several countries throughout the world and had just finished teaching in Vietnam. She told me the focus of her Masters degree was on the empowerment that comes from speaking Japanese. She was extremely humble because she said claimed to speak a little English, and but actually she spoke excellent English.

Paola from Panama - showing the kitsch of Thailand in a cafe in Chiang Mai

Paola from Panama spoke Spanish, German, flawless English, and some Thai. She was getting her Masters degree in some kind of International Studies in Bangkok. We also met each other on the meditation retreat. Paola could probably talk to anyone.

On our same meditation retreat there were two Russian girls who had very limited English and no Thai after living here 2 years. They worked in the tourist industry and kept  themselves in the ‘touristland’ of Phuket. I got the sense that they were missing a lot of what Thailand has to offer. That being said, good for them for doing the meditation retreat.

As citizens of the US, we are not encouraged to learn a second language, but this keeps us cut off from the world. This is disadvantageous to say the least. By learning language, we also learn so much about culture, as language and culture are inextricably linked.

Learning another language at a young age will help one better communicate with the world. This is one of the many reasons I strongly believe in bilingual education. Although, it’s never too late to learn a foreign language. I have to remind myself of that with the difficulties I have learning Thai. I guarantee that if you travel anywhere and try even the most basic words you learn it will be appreciated…but especially here in Thailand.


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