I only speak the English language (well actually I speak a little French, but only when I really have to).
I live in England. I shop in England. I was educated in England.
The vast majority of my friends are English too, and whenever we meet, we too speak English and relate to each other about English traditions and culture, developments, activities, events, social gatherings, local issues affecting daily life, in fact everything that makes up my life is conducted in English.
During summer last year, I was invited to deliver a piece of work in Moscow. I do not speak Russian, I speak English. Everybody in Moscow speaks Russian.
I arrived at the airport to be met by a Russian-speaking driver wearing a smart suit and cap, holding up a small notice board with my name on it (spelt correctly). I walked up to the driver, offered him my hand to shake and said “Hello” in English. He replied with something in Russian, we shook hands with us both smiling genuinely, with him looking like he was genuinely pleased to see me. He indicated our travel direction, and I followed him to his car, my bags were loaded into the boot, he opened the rear door for me, and I took a seat inside.
Hand signals and gestures were exchanged whilst we both tried to make conversation during the journey to my hotel, but in summary, I think the only information I collected from him was his name (Andre), and he the same from me (which he already knew from the notice board he’d held up earlier).
After being successfully transported to the hotel, I spoke with the receptionist in broken English, a huge relief I have to say. Handed the keys to my room, successfully navigating the lift (with floor numbers in English) and bedroom door, I was greeted by emergency evacuation instructions in Russian, a TV that played Russian programmes, and restaurant and room service menu also printed in Russian.
My client was English, who happened to be working in Moscow, and he spoke Russian. From that point onwards, everything I delivered, completed and experienced for this short contract was passed via my client. The only part of this Russian experience I understood really were the communications via smiling faces and nodding heads of approval. To sum it all up, if my client had not been there to interpret all communications, I would have been truly lost.
Today, my father (aged 87) received his very first laptop computer (a mac) so he can use it for some of the work he does with the Burma Star Association. Currently he has a basic digital stills camera which he uses quite a lot when out on social visits with his pals, and doesn’t own a mobile phone.
He’s not looking to design websites or run a blog, twitter, facebook or anything like that- he’s just looking to learn how to type letters so he can post them to people, burn some photographs to dvd so he can post them to his pals (none of whom know how to use a computer or access the internet, emails etc), and use search engines and find out information about potential funding available for his voluntary members group.
He knows how to open the box and unpack the contents, has figured out how the power supply works, and has managed to turn the computer on. He knows what he wants to do and he knows how to communicate with his network. All he needs is a little help in being shown how to do some really basic tasks.
He also knows how to use a telephone to call me, in English.
Knowing him, I suspect he’ll be learning Russian soon.