What is it about English that makes the English assume that it is a difficult language to learn?
En route to Delhi from Heathrow, the air hostess has severe doubts about a shalwar-clad young mother’s capability to comprehend the language. So much, in fact, that she asks, not once, not twice, but three times the question, “Do you speak English?”
I have seen it elsewhere too. Years ago in my student days, at a restaurant I worked, I have had many remark to me how much English I was learning so quickly! I must be a clever lad indeed! Recently, a homeless person who approached me outside a Subway, made sure she ascertained my linguistic capabilities first before politely asking me for a welfare contribution.
The irony of this is that while many among the English are suspicious of the outsider’s command, the new generation of the English is doing a darned good job of writing the language that was theirs into a rut. Some years ago, I had the occasion to offer a student some well-needed advice on some writing she produced for me. “I know English!” she said. “I am English!” I politely told her being English did not mean she could write English, thus earning her eternal hatred in one, single, masterful stroke.
English is like anything else. To be good at it, you need to put effort into it. But as languages go, it isn’t a difficult one to learn — if you are looking for difficulty, try my mother tongue, Malayalam. So how about we assume that everyone speaks English — or at least understands it adequately — unless proven otherwise?