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Lesson 34

                  Isn't It Good to Speak a Foreign Language?

                                         Text A

    "You really are a lucky dog. "
Many peole assume that admission into the Institute of Foreign Trade means not only a farewell to "unemployment", but also a hearty handshake with affluence. They say, and I quote, "As soon as you graduate, you will have a fair chance to go abroad. You may fly round the world, see exciting things and exotic places and feel as happy as a lark and as proud as a peacock. "


    I didn't know what to.think when I first came to this institute. Happy? Yes , happy that I had been admitted by this splendid institute of higher learning. I started to dream about the many things I had so excitedly heard from those who like to dream. I fancied myself posted to one of our commercial offices overseas, working in carpeted offices with air-conditioning, and delightful social activities and parties in the evenings. "What would you like, tea or coffee?" I would answer with a nod, "Brazilian coffee with Danish milk please. " And trying to make conversation, I would say, "What lovely Mediterranean weather we are having!"


    Sometimes, however, I felt a bit uneasy. Comfort is not the only thing in life, you know. I do care about what people may think of me, particularly those "scholarly" people who might turn up their noses at the mere mention of the word "trade" and frown at me. taking me for a little money-grubbing, vulgar merchant.
    Well. a year at this institute has taught me a great many things.


    First, it is not at all easy to be trained for the foreign trade service. Like the students of all other institutes, you must work hard , be straight in all your dealings , staunchly patriotic , loyal and 100% reliable. You must get a good command of two foreign languages and Chiiiese , and try in every way to broaden the range and scope of your knowledge, which you may have to draw upon in your future work - history, geography, culture and so on and so forth.


    Let me cite one or two examples to show how important it is to know the customs and culture of different countries.
    Once , one of our corporations wanted to sell washing machines to Arab countries. In an advertisement to promote sales, strategy demands diagrams instead of written instructions. Dirty clothes went into the machine in the first diagram, a thorough washing was illustrated in the third. Simple and clear. But the result was disastrous. Arabic is written from right to left. How can this corporation expect to promote sales with dirty clothes as a reault of the new machine?


    Another example concerns trade-marks. One of the best batteries produced in China is the "White Elephant" battery. In English, however, "White Elephant" means an object that is useless, overpriced and utterly undesirable. Do you think English -speaking people would be inclined to make a large purchase of this "White Elephant"?


    Second, I've come to learn that the life of a foreign trade worker is not exactly what most people think it is. A good foreign trade worker is one who is dedicated to his work. He must have a strong sense of duty and be fully aware that a slight mistake may bring colossal losses to the country both politically and economically. My uncle, for instance, happens to be a foreign trade worker. Since he is very busy, my aunt has to do nearly all the housework. He is often disturbed in his sleep because of the heavy responsibility. 

Sometimes, he goes to dinner parties four times a week, or even twice a day, but his duties as a translator prevent him from partaking in these banquets. I've seen many of his colleagues burning the candle at both ends. They seldom go to theatres. They seldom go to concerts and they can't even afford time to watch a football match which they're very much interested in. They always think of the interests of the people and the country, without a single thought for themselves. So, think of the tasks . think of the responsibility. Shame on those who only think of their personal comfort, of going abroad, drinking toasts and coming back loaded with foreign made articles.


    Last, but not least; I've come to learn that foreign trade plays a substantial role in our national economy. This is done by acquiring from abroad the equipment and technical know-how necessary for our modernization drive and by pushing the sales of our exports which form the material basis of our imports. There arc so many new fields to open up and so many new things to be learned. Four or five years is not cnough. It requires more than one's lifetime.


    As a student of foreign trade. I feel that my future: job is just as significant and necessary as many other occupations. like the geologists'conquering the deserts, the scientists'tapping the ocean, and the astronauts'exploring the outer space. Instead of going abroad, I may be asked to sit at my desk all my life, collecting
data, translating or interpreting. Then, "Am I a lucky dog?" Yes. I am lucky that I've become a student of foreign trade. Lucky that I'm conscious of the responsibility of a business woman of New China. I.ucky that I have acquired an initial ability to serve my country and my people heart and soul.


                                       Text B

MATTHEW:   Chris, why is it that there are so many different languages , and   
  that in Europe certainly if you travel more than a hundred miles ,
  you're likely to find people speaking a completely different language
  to your own?

 

CHRIS:   Well, it's true to say that there are er ... hundreds and hundreds
  of different languages. It's perhaps um . . . however , more
  interesting and more informative to say that there are several
  different groups of languages er . .. Most European languages,with
  the exception of I think Finnish and er .. . Basque and . . .
  Hungarian I believe,belong to the Indo-European group of languages,
  I'm not very sure myself of the . . . the actual details of the
  history of these languages, but you can be very sure that er ... most

 

  of these languages , say Latin and Greek nd our own language a and
  er . . . German and er ... French and ... all the others, are
  connected. The reason why you can travel from one Willage to another
  in Switzerland and er . . . from one area to another in England
  and find different dialects, if not different languages spoken,
  is that um ... several hundred years ago communication was by word
  of mouth. Word of mouth meant that people had to move ; if people
  were to move they needed roads and there were no roads.

 

MATTHEW:   Do you see any chance for a universal language like Esperanto?
CHRIS:   Not for an artificial er ... language, no ... I suppose the Roman 
  Catholic Church used Latin. but Latin had a ... a particular
  religious basis and this is probably why it was therefore chosen.
  I don't see very much chance for Esperanto; I think it's an awfully
  good idea but I don't believe that language works like that.I think
  people will probably er .. . work towards the most convenient
  language to use.They will not set out to learn a new language. It
  seems to me that er ... either English,. Russian or Chinese, perhaps
  Japanese, will be the language of the future er . . . My bet's on
  English.

 

MATTHEW:

  Maggie, why do you think it is that so few English people speak
  a second language?
MAGGIE:   I think when you learn a language at school ...it tends to be
  rather a dead occupation, and it's very difficult to stimulate any
  interest among school children. But when you actually go to the
  country and spend say a month in . . . in an exchange visit when
  you're a schoolgirl, or a schoolboy um ... then you suddenly become
  more interested because you ... you want to communicate with poeple

 

  when you're actually abroad, and it's not safe to rely on the fact th
  that most people speak English when um . . . in foreign countries.
  Mm . . . I think English people traditionally thought that . . . that
  foreigners always spoke English, and a lot of foreigners do, but
  there are people that you meet in the street or you want to take a
  bus somewhere,  then you find that you need to speak the language
  and'it's very unnerving to be in a situation where you can't
  communicate with people when you do want to travel around.

 

MATTHEW:   Have you ever been abroad and learnt er ... a language in the
  country?
MAGGIE:   Yes , well when I was a secretary I er... went and lived in Geneva  
  for two years, and I learnt French at school but I . . . I really
  didn't speak it at all. I knew it theoretically but I wasn't able to
  communicate with people. But I was in a situation where if I didn't
  speak French , then I would not have been able to do my shopping and
  buy food ,and so I picked the language up and I made friends with

 

  French people ... Swiss French people, and I found that if I wanted
  to communicate with all . . . all the people that I met , then I
  had to learn French, and I think it's the best method of learning
  because you're in the situation. It's very hard at times - you
  can sit through dinner parties and not understand what ... what's
  going on and you think everybody thinks you're stupid because you
  can't communicate with them, but it's ... it's the hard way but I
  think it's the best way to learn.

 

MATTHEW:   Elfriede, you come from Austria and yet you've been living in England
  now for the last three years. Has having to learn and speak another
  language created great problems?
ELFRIEDE:   Um ... At the beginning, yes, it was rather difficult for me to get
  the right job . . . um. after you've lived here for one or two years
  you get to know the system and then that's quite good. You know how
  to use libraries and oh .. . you get to know where to um... call
  in emergencies; um ... you get to know ... er ...trying to get a
  radio and understand the radio and all the . . . programmes they
  have . . . um and when they're on and the little stories.

 

MATTHEW:   What about English humour on the radio?
ELFRIEDE:   Um . . . I think that takes a very very long time to understand and
  I'm sorry to say that I haven't managed yet to understand it
  completely, but er... I find it very interesting to speak other
  languages um ... because English people have different er ...have
  a different mentality, and have a very different character and a
  different temperament and it is fascinating for me to talk to them um...
  and also for myself to be able to express myself in a different
  language and to communicate with them.


                           Additional Information

    Sometimes, I can't help thinking how magic languages are. They are like bridges joining islands - connecting people's minds.
    Now, whenever I am in the classroom, at lectures or practising Engl;sh or French. I often think of my experiences at the llth Asian Games held in Beijing last autumn.


    I was assigned interpreter to the sports delegation from The Maldives, a small island countrv in the Indian Ocean. When I met the delegation at the Beijing Airport    I was greatly surprised to find they all spoke English fluentIy,We were so excited when we realized that we were talking to each other in a language that was not native to anv of us.


    During the Games, one of "my" delegation, Shijiao, developed some eye trouble. The Games Village doctor thought it was infectious and said he should go to the infectious diseases hospital, and I was asked to take him. A Sikh from the Indian delegation went with us. He was suspected of having hepatitis. At the hospital I helped the doctor and nurse get Shijiao settled down.


    The next day, the hospital called to say that Shijiao's eye trouble was not serious and there was no need for him to stay in hospital. So I immediately went to fetch him out. We were about to leave the hospital when a nurse hurried over to me.
    "Are you the interpreter?" she asked.
    "Yes , "
    "Could you please help us. The Indian patient you brought in vvith you yesterday, you know, we can't communicate with him. Nobody in the hospital speaks English. "
"All right. Let's see if I can be of help. "


    Shijiao and I followed her to the Sikh's ward. Three doctors and nurses were around his bed, trying to get through to him with gestures and a few English words. They were very relieved to see me.
    I asked the Indian. "Can I help you?"
    But he replied in a language I had never heard before.
    "English! English! Don't you speak English?" I asked.


    It seemed he knew the word 'English' , for he shook his head. I didn't kriow what to do now. It was beyond me.
    Then Shijiao started speaking in a strange language. It was so funny. How come? The native tongue in The Maldives is Devehi, certainly not a language in India. Shijiao turned to me and said. "My parents came from India. I speak a little Hindi. "


    That was great. The examination started. The doctors told me in Chinese
what they wanted to know. I translated it into English. Shijiao told the patient in Hindi. The Sikh answered in Hindi: Shijiao told me in English, and I put it into Chinese for the doctors.


    The examination took a full hour. The doctors and the patient were very happy, for at last they could communicate with each other. When all the questioning was over, the doctor who seemed to be in charge took my hand and Shijiao's hand and said in Chinese. "Thank you very much. " Then the patient smiled at me and said, "Tan Kiu. " (Thank you)
    It was such an exciting and stimulating experience. I felt how good it was to be an interpreter.