The Golden Tool

I had a crunch week this week. Several major assignments crunched together with existing work/life responsibilities and I found myself staring at a computer screen for an entire day on Saturday. However, I realized that my productivity did not bear any correlation to the amount of time I sat in front of the computer. I gave myself permission to get out of the house on Sunday.

A few weeks ago, I ran into a German architect who is doing an internship at an architecture firm in my town. He was elated to see another westerner. I asked him if he had seen the area, such as the lake and nearby mountains. He hadn’t, so I offered to drive him around sometime. He said he was free on Sunday mornings.

Today I took him sightseeing out of town. He is working extremely long hours at the firm, often until 3 or 4 in the morning. Recently, he told them that he cannot work later than 1 AM just for his own health and sanity. It turns out, he needed to break out of his own work prison as well. We both needed to experience some different, positive stimuli and give our bodies and brains the fresh air and nature that they needed.

On our way to the ocean (where we found nine fishing floats!), he told me about his educational experiences in Germany, and how his one major regret was that he did not realize how important languages would be to his future life. He said that all of the other subjects, mathematics, science, history, were not nearly as useful to him as his English or French. He became quite animated when he started talking about his English. He told me that he was a very poor student, and that today, while he values his proficiency, he feels that he is mangling grammar as he goes along. What was most important to him was how valuable a tool English was in connecting with people from essentially any country in the world. As he gesticulated wildly (very much unlike a German), he said that he felt English was such a great tool. In fact, it was the golden tool. The Golden Tool. That is probably the most generous and encouraging perspective I have ever heard someone take in regards to English as an international language.

It jogged my perspective a little bit. This could be my new sales pitch to junior high students. Study and use English. It’s the Golden Tool.

My German friend offered one additional perspective in regards to this universal tool. It does not serve him well here in Japan. As he put it, very often, English is the medium of communication between him and another person whose first language is neither English nor German. In those situations, he is able to use English as a tool to learn other words, to circumlocute in the direction of words that he does not know in English or in another language. Yet he said he is unable to do this in Japanese. Throughout Japan, English provides no easy detour around the language barrier.

Japan, you need to recognize that this tool called English is solid gold.

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