What is it about foreigners?

I RECALL years ago there was a particularly dry spell. As a consequence bush fires, sweeping across remote wine plantations on the Extremadura border, were making international news.

A BBC news team turned up to interview an affected owner.

Throughout the dialogue he spoke flawless English; he was a local.

The English language is difficult, even for those for whom it is their first and only language. This is especially so for written English; few can write competently.

It is complex and made worse by changing fashion and writing style.

There are rules but few of us stick to them. On occasion I have been put right on language rules by Germans, but we know how infuriatingly pedantic they can be.

I have a Ukrainian friend, a teacher of music. She has never visited the United Kingdom and unlikely to do so.

When emailing she often apologises for her poor command of English.

It is of a higher standard than many of the letters I receive from friends born and bred in Britain.

Could you imagine a Briton apologising for an occasional slip up when speaking Ukrainian or Eastern European language? A Russian ballerina wrote to tell me she doesn’t speak my language well.

When we met it was perfectly comprehensible. A Latvian friend accompanied me to my Spanish medical centre.

She chatted to reception in Spanish. Then, in the company of the Russian doctor spoke to him in his own language.

In a Riga restaurant I sat like a dummy as the same lady chatted with French diners on an adjacent table. Had they been German, no problem for she spoke their language too.

I meet countless people who speak their language and English; often one or two other languages as well. They don’t consider it a big deal.

A Russian friend can recite Shakespeare, quote English literature from heart and to be honest leaves me well behind on these subjects.

She is not alone; in fact, annoyingly she is typical. My Latvian muse, Ina, who lives on the Lithuanian border, sends 500 word emails in good English.

To understand my own emails better she first translates my English into Russian.

An Irish acquaintance, who to be fair, spoke excellent English thought it about time he learned French. He signed up for evening classes and failed to get through the admission test.

He was advised to learn English first. He had, as most of us have, learned English by ear just as many musicians play competently but can’t read sheet music.

He had never been taught grammar; the nuts and bolts of the English language. Foreigners are taught these essentials; it makes learning a language, any language, far easier; so I am told.

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