Some people just have luck hiding in their pocket, waiting to jump out at every opportunity and say “oh look the coat of my dreams is on sale!” or “wow I did not practice at all and I won first place!” How lucky for them!
I am not one of those “lucky” people. In elementary school, I was always the quietest but when I did talk, I always got in trouble. In middle school, I was always the one practiced the hardest at piano, but when the performance came, my music stand would fall over. And in high school, I could not get out of my own way.
But something changed recently for me. Rather than luck radiating from the palms of my hands like “lucky” people have, someone changed my perspective.
Aleksandra’s thick Polish accent flowing forcefully from the back of throat said “You are like a god here–English is your native language–you are so lucky.” We were standing in the middle of the university cafeteria, surrounded by people whose various mother tongues shot easily and comfortably around, filling the gaps of the awkward English phrasing.
“Yes–I speak English–so what? You speak Russian, Polish, French, and English..” I responded in defense. What is so great about English?
It’s a different world here in Europe, Switzerland especially–because everyone in Switzerland must learn German and English in school (in the French part), and the European language learning framework is really effective, so students speak three languages normally. In the States, if you know one other language than English, then you are considered really smart, but here, if you speak just two languages, it is not even close to impressive.
“No,” she said, her eyes wide, “You are so lucky that you are fluent in English–we all have to learn it in school so we can get jobs.”
As Americans, we are so far away from the rest of the world that we can survive without learning other languages, and speak English everyday without hesitation, or having to translate most of the time.
I am lucky because I speak English? This would sound really funny to me in America, because I would not have considered myself “lucky,” but here, in this tiny country in the center of Europe, I feel proud that I say I am fluent in English. But I had not realized this until Aleksandra had pointed it out.
I am indeed lucky–I am in a Master’s level English class as a Bachelor student, and this PhD candidate from Poland was ecstatic to be my partner for this project because I am a native English speaker.
Was I lucky to learn the world’s most common lingua franca as my mother tongue? Or would I be more “cultured” if I had grown up in Europe and learned English as a second language? I am very thankful I am fluent in English (or American English at least..but that is a different story) because really everyone adores practicing their English here–it really is a great way to make friends, and of course my English class is not as difficult as it is for non-native speakers.
So I have some luck from my language.