Problems With English

SSignpeak three languages and you’re trilingual. Speak two and you’re bilingual. Speak one and you’re American. The latter is not always true, but pretty close.

I smile when I hear parents, moms in particular, mention their toddler’s little mind. I think They’re learning to speak English, the hardest language in the world!

If to, too, two, for, fore, four, their, there, (they’re,) hear, here, right, rite, sight, site and cite aren’t confusing enough, there’s further and farther and clinch and clench.

I know an Afghani who reads, writes and speaks five languages. He grew up in a mud hut on the Paki border. I don’t even know what you call someone who speaks five languages. Pentalingual? Is that a word? No. Maybe brilliant is a better description. I always wondered what language he dreamed in.


Fly to Europe, anywhere, pick a major city in any country. Then, go for a walk with your ears open. You’ll hear German, French, Dutch, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, Arabic and English, just to name a few. Two out of three people speak two or more languages, including English.

I took Spanish in the seventh grade. After nine months, I couldn’t ask for a taco. It took me 14 years working in Saudi Arabia to acquire a good Arabic vocabulary. Come to think of it, I can’t ask for a taco in that language either.

Filipinos, Indians and Bengalis pronounce F and V as P. My name was Dabid for years, and I answered to it. I used to ask for beep steak, medium well.

So a Pill-a-pee-no (Filipino) speaks Pill-a-pee-no (Pilipino) and lives in the Pill-a-peens (Philippines,) and I’ve seen as many as pipty-pipe Pill-a-pee-nos at one time.

I know some roughneck types who crew changed in the Med, via Italy. Their driver missed the turn to the dock, and Billy Todd yelled, “Hey, Fred Bob, you speak Italian, tell him to stop!”

Fred marched halfway down the aisle and addressed the driver. “Stop-a da bus! Stop-a da bus!”

Another Day in the Patch

imagesSoon after my wife and I married we drove to west Texas to visit some of my relatives. A typical March day greeted our arrival. Wind at 40, gusts 55 or beyond, temperature 50 but felt like 20 and most of the topsoil was airborne and headed for Oklahoma, so the streetlights were still lit in the middle of the afternoon. Just another day for me, I was raised there. My bride thought otherwise. Before our visit ended, I had to place my right hand over my heart and solemnly swear, cross my fingers, hope to die, that I would never, ever, in a million years, move her to Lubbock, Texas.

Poor girl. She should have said “anywhere the sands blows” because eight short years later, we moved to Saudi Arabia.

I remember the day we arrived, July 8th, 1996, for several reasons. We were in London the day before and the sun shined all day. I’d heard Londoners had seen it before, but I’d been there a hundred times and had not experienced anything other than cold drizzle. And I remember the stares and dirty looks I received all the way from Bahrain, across the causeway, into the magic kingdom … from my wife and three kids.

Okay, I got it. It’s different. A trip into Dammam to the new Burger King for lunch would ease some anxiety. Show ’em western influence existed. We hit the drive-in and I relayed everyone’s order to the invisible lady in the microphone. When I finished, my kids wanted to know what language I spoke. “Um, Texan with a Filipino accent and Texan with an Arab accent when I said ‘same-same’ twice in a row, and three short English words with a Texas accent.” They were impressed.

Eventually, they adjusted.

Maybe not at the time, but looking back, I believe my kids would say they enjoyed that period in their lives. They experienced events and places few westerners can boast. Until recently, Saudi Arabia didn’t allow visitors, the pilgrimage to Mecca aside, but even then pilgrims aren’t allowed to venture out of that particular province.


I mean, what teenage girl can say her dad turned down ten she camels in trade for her. What teenager can say he/she travelled to Egypt to play in a soccer tournament, or played golf in Dubai, Saudi, Qatar, and Bahrain, or saw Brian Adams perform in Bahrain and Sting rock the night in Dubai?

My middle girl asked me if I attended concerts back in my high school days. Sting was her first and she was disappointed by the infrequent visits to the Middle East from the world’s performers. I told her I went to Chicago. She said, “Oh my, who did you see?”