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English with a smile: The international language

Wendy . Blog Published 10 May 2015

It's now May, 2015, and the big questions is still- "Do YOU speak English? Do you do it with a smile? Can you communicate with others ?

I speak English. You know I do. I've spoken it since I was a little girl. I've used my English in North America, South America, Europe and Africa. And yes, a couple of years ago I finally got to Asia. Some day I'll get to Australia and New Zealand too. I have relatives and friends in all those places and I need to speak to them and write to them in English, in Spanish, in Portuguese. Are you still mono-lingual? I hope not.

Spanish is important, you say. Of course it is. You may ask, "Do YOU speak Spanish?" Good question, but not vitally important because YOU speak some English, right? You can communicate with me in English. And you can smile and speak English at the same time.

To answer your question: I'm pretty fluent in Spanish now. I started out when I was about 10 with "Allá en el rancho grande" and "De la Sierra Morena, cielito lindo..." Yes, we learned songs in Spanish and studied Spanish grammar, and then started to read Spanish literature. However it wasn't until I started my student exchanges that I really learned to communicate. And I must admit it was mostly with gestures and a smile!

As you know communication is important. The thousands of "Españoles por el Mundo" have to communicate and to SMILE when abroad. That's easy for a Spaniard. You're a very talkative gregarious group.

As a child I was taught that "children should be seen but not heard." That was hard. I was also taught to SMILE, to say "please" and "thank you", to listen and answer when spoken to. I became adept at answering the phone politely "No, I'm sorry, he isn't here right now. Could I take a message?" And I said "Excuse me" rather than pushing through a crowded area, and I said "I'm sorry" when I had to bother someone. I also learned to be sympathetic and to listen to others. I didn't speak up much with strangers, but I smiled. And I spoke English!

Over the years I've been exposed to many cultures and learned to respect people and their traditions. I've found that a simple phrase or two transects all the social-economic and religious boundaries. A word or two and a SMILE show that you are trying to communicate and to learn.

Gestures can also help of course.. I'd point to what I wanted or needed on a map or in a market place. I could show what I was worried about or didn't have or wanted to do with a few gestures and a smile. Sometimes the language was not important, but the message was. That's why I always liked to practice using gestures in class.

Imagine yourself sitting in an open jeep in South Africa as a bull elephant approaches, tossing his head around and staring you in the eye. He's getting too close for comfort and no one else has noticed because they are all busy looking for lions. You don't want to shout and startle this none-too-friendly looking creature, but you do want to get the guide's attention. The smile is one of panic and the gesture says, "Let's get out of here, and fast." One glance, message received and the jeep takes off just before those 2 long tusks take a swipe at the screaming metallic creature. Yes, screaming is also communication.

And then there are the times when that SMILE and a few quiet words, even if not understood, save the day. You can help calm a lost child in a big scary department store or accompany an absent-minded elderly person a few steps to shelter and out of the pouring rain. Do you hold the door open for others? Do you move aside so others can get by on the stairs? Do you smile? Do you say, "Good morning" or just rush on by?

Good manners. A smile. A gesture. A few words in any language may make a big difference to many around you. Try it. Communicate. Try out your English. Smile. And ............remember the elephant !

gregarious: de juerga
politely: educadamente
crowded: lleno de gente
bother: molestar
sympathetic: comprensivo
strangers: extraños
boundaries: fronteras, divisiones
gestures: gestos
bull elephant:macho
approaches: acercarse
tossing: tirando, moviendo
staring: mirar sin pestañar
shout: gritar
startle: asustar
glance: un vistazo
take off: despegar, irse rapidamente
swipe:pasar rapidamente (swipe your credit card/ID card)
elderly: anciano
shelter: a cobijo
pouring rain: lloviendo acantaros
hold: sostener
step aside: apartarse
rush on by: pasar rapidamente
manners: modales

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Comments (2)
Natalia (not verified)
5 February 2016 12:29 pm Reply

Hi, I read this with you and now I'm impressed with myself. I'm going to read more articles of your blog.

Elena (not verified)
5 February 2016 12:29 pm Reply

Great to read you! Take care, Elena

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