The Same Language

I had a lacklustre dinner yesterday. I mean, the food was good, but dinner was underwhelming. Why? I value the social aspect of a meal, and last night was simply unsatisfactory. Edwin and I were dining with three other people, and I probably had about ten sentences to say in total over the course of two hours. The conversation topics were workplace politics, real estate and corporate finance, all of which I know nothing about and have no interest in. I was very much left out of the whole conversation.

I didn’t want to interrupt anyone, and so I just waited for an opportunity to change the subject, which came when someone mentioned weddings. Edwin and I wanted to mentioned the highlights of our wedding, since they didn’t witness it. However, we were interrupted after half a sentence, and it was back to the Big Three Topics of the evening.

For the earlier part of the evening, we were mostly focused on eating, so I didn’t mind where the conversation went. However, as it progressed, it was a little frustrating that I couldn’t participate. There were some times I couldn’t even understand what the others were talking about. Yes, they were speaking in English, but the content just wasn’t my cup of tea.

On the way home, I started thinking about how I have very little in common with these people. Technically, we may speak the same language, and I know the words they say, but I don’t understand them, and they may not understand me either. This really could be due to a myriad of factors – age gap, different stage of life, different industry, different life experiences… And then it occurred to me how natural it is to communicate with children. So maybe it’s just me.

It is incredibly challenging to teach English, given that most of my students are not exposed to it beyond the classroom. It is a good challenge nonetheless, and a meaningful one. I do hope that the children will benefit from the classes and be fluent in the language someday, but right now, it’s just so rewarding (and amusing) to hear them chirping words and sentence fragments in English. Most of them are very little, with the youngest at two and a half years old. Kids do say the darndest things, and these kids say them in a mixture of Cantonese, English and “kidspeak”, a unique language known only to children, and sometimes, I have that privilege of listening in.

So perhaps I’m just of a different world than that of my peers. Perhaps the world I belong in is one filled with the adorable antics of a three year old, the strange questions of a nine year old, and everything in between. Somehow, I understand them, and they understand what I tell them, even though my words are purely in English. We may not speak the same language, but that’s only on the surface.


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