I started my journey towards foreign languages, when at 18 months, I started repeating German words on my dad’s beer caps collection. My parents have never learned a foreign language, basically nobody in my whole family did! I had a wealthy uncle who went to the U.S. many times and basic knowledge of the English language was the closest to bilingual we had in our family at that point.
I grew up proud of my accomplishments and all the years I invested learning 4 languages and understanding a couple others! That was until I moved to the U.S.of A! I immediately found out my “perfect English skills” which opened the doors to many jobs in my country, were not good enough.
My husband started showing me subtle things like |i| |e|, as in little, which I used to say leetle…or capitain instead of capitan and the list goes on and on, like preposition use, since none of it made any sense to me, ups, on, in, nightmare….preposition nightmare is never really understood until you move here! You think you know the language, but here is a whole new world of possibilities!
His help was instrumental to bring my academic English to a stage very close to a.. native speaker.
But that did not prevent or spare me from suffering what I call the monolingual bullying! Yes, people who don’t speak a foreign language and use their lack of skills on foreign languages to bully people who do master them but would never live up to their standards on the ONLY language they speak, only being the key word!
I have hundreds of stories to tell, but will share just two, to illustrate the whole bullying nature! When I started my business and I attended networking events, I would always find a person coming to me and saying, I detect an accent, where are you from? What they really meant was: “I hear your accent, you don’t speak English like I do”.
The other story is a little more dramatic as it involves a family member, and knowing she has absolutely no interest in foreign languages, there is a slim to none chance she will ever read my blog! We were in the kitchen of my sister in law’s home and I asked my son, please put the snickers (that is how I said it) on, she jumped with a sarcastic tone and said, Claudia we don’t have snickers bars,but we have other ones….everybody laughed….she continued, he couldn’t put snickers on anyway….laughing….I counted to 10 in any language I know and started, the room was silent because everybody knows my tongue is bigger than my body……I said, I speak four languages, understand about 8, when you learn your second language, we can talk about sneakers and snickers….she was floored, the room was empty all of a sudden. She hasn’t made fun of my English since!
I am a person open to learning experiences and I learn something new every day, I’m far from considering myself a native speaker and that feeling keeps me hungry to improve and perfect my skills, but that doesn’t give people the right to bully me or others who are in different walks in their journey to learn a second language.
I tell my students every day, I make mistakes in English every day, mistakes are a part of a learning process, so face it and know that it is ok and normal to make mistakes. Making those mistakes and walking in the right direction are the foundation steps to mastering a language or learning anything in life!
So while the sneakers are to be worn or the snickers to be eaten, put yourself in somebody’s shoes before you make certain comments and remember, diminishing or purposely criticizing somebody to make the person feel inferior is Bullying! Language Bullying, but it hurts as much as the food thrown at the chubby kid in the cafeteria or the mean words said by popular girls to the not so popular ones!
So embrace a foreign language speaker trying to speak your language as an asset not a handicap.