LearnLanguageswith Us!Start Learning!
You language learning will be received differently around the world by different people. How is it for you?
As much as I like to paint cultures and people with broad strokes in my comic Itchy Feet, for satirical purposes of course – the fact is that people are people, and people are different. Everyone’s going to react differently to you learning a language. It depends who you are, who they are, and what language you’re learning.
As an American growing up in the Southwest, knowing a second language (that wasn’t Spanish) was wild and unique. Even though my parents are both trilingual and multicultural, you don’t think much about that as a kid. You think about what your friends are like. And while some of my friends of Hispanic heritage could indeed speak Spanish, not all of them did, and even if they could, it wasn’t cool. It was just normal. But if you could speak Russian or Japanese or Hebrew? Now that was interesting. I remember being fascinated by my best friend growing up, whose mother was Israeli and spoke Hebrew with him. Lucky guy, I thought. He’s going to grow up to be all interesting. Not like me, with my boring old German dad and Irish mom. Snore!
So when you do learn a foreign language as an adult American, people find it incredible. “I could NEVER do that,” they say, as if they’ve put in the hours you have. English is easy enough to use around the world, so why bother climbing such a difficult mountain?
But now as I’ve left the USA and joined the expat community abroad, I’ve found that it’s almost taboo not to speak more than one language. You’re expected to speak at least two. Otherwise there’s this implication that you’re just barging into foreign countries, getting by on your English and expecting others to do the same. And it’s not always English – there’s a large Italian community here in Berlin, for example, and I know several Italians who don’t speak any German OR English! Somehow, it feels like there’s something irresponsible about that – almost brutish. And especially here in Europe, if you meet someone who speaks five languages, you just nod. Of course they do.
And various cultures will have various broad ways of receiving the information that you are learning their language. In countries where the language is popular around the world, like China – it’s assumed. In countries where the language is less international, like Thailand – it’s celebrated. And in some countries, like Japan, there’s nothing you can do to get the locals to treat you like a local, too, no matter how “fluent” you get. Fluency is cultural as much as linguistic.
What about you? How have people reacted to your language learning endeavors?