It was then I decided that I would one day learn to speak English as fluently and effortlessly as these gifted students. And fast, of course faster. Much faster.
Because I was led to believe that the faster you spoke, the better you were at it, and if clarity was compromised, so be it. This unwritten rule was lauded every time a relative, a friend or a famous personality was caught spewing torrents of words in English.
For instance, people used to narrate the example of a famous politician from Tamil Nadu who went to the US and asked a random guy for 'Ten ton tin', and they were extremely impressed when the newspaper (allegedly) reported that the American dude did not understand a word of what the politician said (even though there were just three, if you think about it). A similar sort of veneration to speed over clarity was extended to a quiz guy on TV. Even though no one had a clue to what he was rattling off, they were suitably impressed all the same (reminds me of Catch 22 line, 'If you can't dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bullshit).
This made me wonder: Why would you go to a foreign country and speak the native language so fast that even three words were hard to understand? If confusing the other guy was the agenda, then he might as well have spoken in Swahili (the guy might have understood him, probably), I felt.
Isn't the point of communication clarity? That when I say something, you understand what I'm saying? Apparently not.
Which brings me to Japan. I've been there quite a few times over the years, and my wife and I get by beautifully with a point and speak book. It's a wonderful little book that has pictures of food, vegetables, buses and trains,beverages and dishes, names of cities and destination. And the descriptions are in Japanese and English so we are on the same page, so to speak. If I want to go to a particular place, I point to the page that says, 'Please take me to ...' and fill in the blank orally and he takes me there. I order food by pointing to the pictures. I can 'talk' to anyone. They don't know English and I don't know Japanese. It works brilliantly. And it does away with not only speed, but whole sentences. I say 'no fish, no meat', they scratch their heads and say, 'shrimpu?' I say no, they say 'gomennasai' and I walk to the next shop. Simple. The way it should be, eh?