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#189 Learning Localese

December 8, 2012

In the early years of an EAW career, one of the most important phrases to learn in Localese is “OMG you are so adorable. Can I take your picture for my Facebook page?” (Image:

Submitted by KT

A large part of being an EAW is communication. So it’s common for EAWs to decide they want to learn basic Localese. After all, EAWs have to at least pretend that they do more than write reports in English at the office in the capital.

They will probably not get very far through their “Basic Localese for Travelers” book, however, even though it is designed for very stupid English speakers. Why? Well, even though it’s spoken by “undeveloped” people, Localese is a fiendishly complex language. It is not related to any languages currently spoken by self-determining peoples, and contains all sorts of nasty little traps to prevent accurate comprehension or production. In addition, native Localese speakers’ derisive hilarity at the EAW’s attempts to reproduce the barbaric tones required are just extremely off-putting. Most of these locals clearly haven’t understood the principles of safe spaces for participation.

So in actuality, there really isn’t much reason for an EAW to learn Localese. Getting a visa to go to the land where Localese is spoken is almost as complex a process as learning the 20,000 different vowelisers. Locals can’t generally afford to get out, except the elites, who have replaced their own Localese with English anyway. (English is a much better language for social climbing).

For the EAW still keen to learn Localese, the best way to start is to look carefully at the source of motivation.

  • Learning it mostly to show off? Ignore the script bits and focus on the speaking and listening parts. Work at speaking extremely quickly.
  • Learning it for do-gooder humanitarian reasons? Also focus on the speaking and listening parts, but practice producing them slowly and very loudly, as poor people are often slightly deaf.
  • Learning it due to ill-informed third world romanticism? The indecipherable squiggles comprising the alphabet are very suitably exotic, so focus on the writing sections, and then try learning Pali or Sanskrit.
  • Learning because you’ve heard that this is a good place to be a sex tourist? Focus on the listening and bargaining sections, and then go and shoot yourself.

Only the most dedicated EAW will likely ever learn enough Localese to actually function in it. So for the rest, it’s probably best to stick to swearing in Localese, buying t-shirts in Localese, dropping some words here and there into conversation, drumming up obscure ways to show off in Localese, using local catcalls, learning some exotic local holiday greetings, recognizing the local version of ‘Honky‘, or making sure the offspring are multilingual.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Rae Julian permalink
    December 10, 2012 3:49 pm

    How about just learning it in order to be able to participate in local life, such as buying food at the market instead of from expat shops or talking to the neighbours?

  2. Gay permalink
    December 10, 2012 4:44 pm

    Nice piece, KT!! I hope you’ll write more in all sorts of places.

  3. Holly M permalink
    December 11, 2012 10:05 pm

    Haha.Great article KT. Reminds me of the Chiang Mai days…

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