29 September 2011

Although I don’t use it a lot, I had changed my Facebook settings to show everything in Esperanto. That was pretty cool to start with and I could recognize quite a lot of the words such as ŝati.

The problem was I really don’t use Facebook that much and have very little idea of what goes where or what does what. For example, I can fix a computer running Windows XP in Chinese. I have no idea what any of the text says and I can’t read the menus. However I’ve fixed the damn thing so often that I know what is where and what everything does. I even have a pretty good idea of what the error messages are…

But my lack of familiarity with Facebook meant that I couldn’t do this. For one off menus, especially those with pretty logos were fairly easy to decipher. On the other hand when you start getting popups with big red exclamation marks, a warning in Esperanto and two options also in Esperanto that you don’t understand, it gets a bit scary…

So today I changed my default setting back to English. At least I can read that and I can see what I’m agreeing to and what the warnings are.

Experience has taught me that immersion works well but you have to be careful with it. If you go to a completely foreign country for example, you need to take a crutch with you. If you don’t even have a phrase book, you’re going to be fairly screwed if the country you go to has little English.

This has back fired on me in Hong Kong too. The level of English use here allows me to use English. Seriously, unless you really want to learn Cantonese you can get by living here easily without Cantonese. The vast majority of bank staff speak English, the police speak English, the language used for legal matters is also English. Hell, even a large number of taxi drivers will have no problem getting you where you want to go…

The result? You get lazy. You don’t have to use it so you don’t. Humans have a very interesting ability - they can ignore any inconvenient truth with the greatest ease. Smoking causes cancer? Ignored.  Eating 50 doughnuts a day makes you fat(ter)? Ignored. If you don’t believe me just look at all the crap that is peddled to people offering quick fixes, free money an magic pills. The worst bit is people buy them!

In various parts of China, if you don’t speak Mandarin, you are not going to get anywhere. Thinking you might use English in a taxi? Forget it. Want to visit a bank or a local shop? If you don’t know Mandarin, expect to do a lot of pointing - an awful lot of pointing…

When you can’t fall back on English, you have to use the alternative because otherwise you’re going to be spending a lot of time sitting in the dark…

Anyway, the Facebook experiment didn’t pan out for me for the simple reason that I had no freaking idea what I was clicking on and that scares the crap out of me… I still think it’s a good idea in principle though… :)



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