The importance of having a language.
The importance of being able to communicate in a language other than English has never been more important, it can open doors for you and you never know where it will take you and when you’ll use it but it’s there, always, an additional life skill. It can be a simple matter of communicating a basic request, asking a question or a more pressing issue of requiring medical attention.
There have been two occasions in my life where the ability to speak French has proven to be desperately important, one of which has been today on an outgoing flight from Gatwick to Mauritius when I was awoken urgently to assist British Airways cabin crew as a fluent speaker of French. I was briefed that a Mauritian passenger was extremely unwell and there was the need to have a degree more of fluency to assist before the crew and captain made the call to land the plane seeking vital medical attention. Cabin crew are highly skilled and were undaunted in supporting this passenger who was travelling alone back family in Mauritius.
Complaints of chest pain and shallow breathing were clear and had been basically communicated however I was asked to assist the distressed passenger to provide support and gain further medical knowledge. I am a teacher and certainly not a doctor but cabin crew assured me that their medical training would take over. I spent sometime with a delightful lady, the same age as my own dad, who it seemed, was struggling to breathe, was experiencing sharp chest pains as a result of a lung condition coupled with a bout of sickness and was travelling alone.
After a period of time and with the medical skills of the cabin crew, my fellow passenger seemed to have less laboured breathing which allowed me the time to get to know her a little more. Using my language skills in this situation was terrifying not least because my knowledge of medical conditions are limited, thankfully, but also the absolute requirement to glean very specific information from a very unwell person and translate this back and forth swiftly without coming across as insensitive or rude but with the absolute need to get this right being paramount.
Thankfully the lady was able to share her medical concerns and key details with me which I duly shared with Cabin crew and ascertained that she was being met at the airport by her family after spending 3 months travelling through England, one of her lifelong ambitions. Thankfully after communication with the pilot and discussion with cabin crew and the passenger the flight continued onwards returning her to her family.
It was a privilege to be called upon to assist in this very challenging situation but it has reaffirmed to me the need to be able to communicate clearly and confidently in another language, something I always say to my students. If you can’t speak another language and no one around you could speak good English just ask yourself the question ‘how exactly would you communicate a medical need if you needed to?’ I’m honestly not trying to scare you merely to make you stop and think. We can no longer rely on English as the language to communicate in as we travel further across the globe expecting people overseas to understand us. Surely with all of the modern technology at our fingertips, the screens we stare in to apparently incessantly, we can teach ourselves something new, perhaps the basics in the language of the country we are travelling to, just in case we have to use it. I hope you wouldn’t have to use the language you have learned as a result of an emergency but I’m certain it’ll be fun practicing! And the more you practice the more confident you will become.
Check out Rosetta Stone, YouTube, Memrise & Quizlet for online language learning tools to help you. You could purchase or download a phrase book or dig down deep in to the depths of your brain searching for the secondary language experience you hopefully enjoyed and use it!
I promise you, you can learn anything new at any age so why not a language? And why not start today? One thing I am absolutely certain of is that you will never regret it.