International Language, really?


October 4, 2010 by Willy Cardoso

Apparently, it has become common sense that English is THE  international language.

I say apparently because we teachers talk a lot about it, but it’s not as simple as that, of course it isn’t.

I was at a bank the other day. More precisely, at a Santander agency, formerly Abbey in the UK, and I had the amusement of overhearing the following exchange.

Customer: Do you speak Spanish?

Clerk: No, I’m sorry, just English.

Customer (dumbfounded): You don’t speak Spanish???

Clerk (patiently): Sorry sir, just English.

Customer (getting carried away): Does anybody in this branch speak Spanish?

Clerk (getting pissed off): No sir, we all speak English.

Customer: This is unacceptable! Santander is a Spanish bank and you here don’t speak Spanish?

Clerk: Sir, I don’t know about  Spain, but we’re in England, we speak English.

Customer: But in Spain they also speak English at the branches!

Clerk: They do, but here we speak English. Can I help you with anything?

Customer: Do you exchange money?

Clerk: No sir, we don’t do that.

Customer: No??? … Ok, bye.

I love these little moments in life. They make it look more real.


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6 thoughts on “International Language, really?

  1. Rick says:

    I wish I’d been there! hahahaha

    However, I still remember something that my dad went through when I was 12. We went to the USA, and when we were in Miami, he tried to order something. When he called room service, he started speaking English, and the lady interrupted him and said. “No…no… no English… Español… Español…”

    Hope life’s been treating well! You deserve nothing less than that! 🙂

  2. Vladimira says:

    Wow, I really like it! It is amazing story. When i started reading it I thought, well his English is pretty good, why does he need Spanish-speaking staff??? It reminds me of the video clip Do you speak English?
    Very nice, thanks


    • I thought the same thing when that happened!
      The man’s English was fine, for a moment I thought he was joking, but he wasn’t I guess, he was quite offended. The real funny thing though is that banks don’t exchange paper-money!

      Oh, I love that video!

  3. Luke Meddings says:

    He was lucky to find someone to complain to! I gave up waiting in my local branch the other day. He’d have been better off in a Pret A Manger – great range of languages there and always enjoyable, though of course these are all people speaking English as a second/other language, not English L1 speakers with foreign language skills.

    Rick’s anecdote reminds me of what can happen when English L1 speakers who actually DO want to speak other languages try them out: if I’m abroad and I pluck up the courage to speak in Spanish, or in German, the person I’m speaking to often waits patiently before smiling sweetly and replying in perfect English. I get no feedback on the language I’m trying to speak, and it seems perverse to then continue the conversation in Spanish/German! Kind of wipes out the ZPD..

    • That happened to me twice in Barcelona a couple of years ago. I was there being very careful and trying to make a good impression with my A2ish Spanish and the hostel clerk replied in Portuguese and then same thing at a Gaudi gallery. This so was weird cause it’s not that they spoke to me in English, it was Portuguese c’mon.
      You see Luke, and then people say the best way to learn a language is to go to where it’s widely spoken, but no-one is patient enough to put up with other’s limitations.

  4. […] Authentic Teaching the month started with an interesting dialogue I overheard at a bank, a rather low-hopes blogpost if you know what I mean, it didn’t even have tags, and the category […]

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