Languages

by on May 22, 2008

Today’s flight back to the US was a routine operation. Gate to gate it clocked 11:36. The flight planned route was a little farther north than a great circle route today, passing just north of Anchorage, but it successfully avoided several different areas of forecast turbulence. It was a smooth flight until the last 45 minutes or so.

The other cockpit crew members had plans for their time off and didn’t take the hotel van downtown to our layover location. It was only me and our two flight attendant/interpreters. They sat in the row behind me in the van, talking about what they might do on the layover and exchanging their work histories. It was a typical conversation between crew members who haven’t known each other very long.

The unusual part of the conversation was that it was conducted in English. One of the interpreters is based in Tokyo, the other in Beijing. Their common language was English. Our airline also has flight attendant bases in Taipei, Manila, Singapore and Hong Kong. Quite often a cabin crew for an interport Asian flight will be made up of flight attendants from most of the different bases, with a few extra from the departure and arrival countries. Then a US-based purser (Lead Flight Attendant) and usually at least one other US-based flight attendant are added to the mix. On the bus to the layover hotel it is not unusual to hear simultaneous conversations in 3-4 different languages and then hear English interspersed throughout as one group talks to another. It’s quite an interaction to observe.

It makes the average American’s proficiency of a single native language seem a bit weak. I remember taking four years of language classes in High School and at graduation I had almost progressed to the bilingual level, but the use-it-or-lose-it saying has certainly applied to me. Maybe if I was immersed in the language I could pick it back up again, but at this point, that isn’t going to happen.

I guess I’ll have to be satisfied with watching and listening to the way the different cultures can interact if they’re given the chance.

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