I have learned 2 languages, not counting English, in 2 very different situations. I learned Thai as a 19-20 year old missionary for my church in Thailand. I HAD to learn and my ability to be a missionary would have been very limited without being able to speak Thai.
On the other hand, I chose Spanish because it’s something I have always wanted to learn. I don’t NEED to know it. In fact, it’s hard for my to find a normal opportunity to converse with someone in Spanish even though I live in a semi-Spanish speaking country. I am also learning it as a full-time working father of 4 kids. To say that the two experiences are not the same would be the understatement of the year.
The Biggest Difference
The biggest difference for me has been how I handle finding a native speaker here in my town. First of all, I do find Thai people in Utah. Actually, I used to go to a Thai/Lao congregation of my church in southern Salt Lake City. They do exist, though admittedly, they are rare.
No matter where I am, when I hear Thai words coming out of someones mouth, I have to go find them. Then I throw out one of two phrases. I either say “ไปไหน” (bpai năi) which literally means where you going, but it is more of a greeting than a question, or I will say “เป็นคนไทยหรือเปล่า” (bpen kon tai rĕu bplào) which means “are you Thai?” and it comes from the famous song about what makes Thai people, Thai.
The response is always the same, surprise and then excitement. No matter how good of an English Speaker they are, they are happy to find someone who can speak Thai and we become instant friends. It’s a wonderful experience, even if it is a rare event.
Spanish speakers in America are much more plentiful, but when I chance upon a native Spanish speaker here, they are usually NOT from another country. They are typically the bilingual children of immigrants, which means that the need or desire to communicate in Spanish with a stranger who is throwing out his Swiss cheese speaking abilities is not very high.
There you go, I am not saying one is better, I am just noticing the differences I have noticed between the two situations. Do you have any experiences with finding native speakers in your home land or just fun experiences with talking with a native? Please share down below.