This article got me thinking about something of which I already try to remind myself on a daily basis:
Speaking a second language with anything less than fluency can automatically create the impression that you are less intelligent than you actually are (to the native speakers whose language you are trying to speak). It also limits you in terms of discussing abstract concepts, making jokes, and using language with finesse and subtlety.
When I interact with my students, I sometimes subconsciously fall into the belief that the students with higher level English are “smarter”… and then I catch myself and remember that obviously that’s not necessarily true. I’m sure some of the students who are the lowest level in English are also some of the highest scoring in other subject areas. Learning a second language just isn’t everyone’s forte (and I ought to know, since learning Korean is no walk in the park for me – and I’m living here!).
The same goes for talking with my co-teachers and Korean friends. I think it’s a natural (if perhaps a bit snobby?) inclination to associate limited vocabulary, incorrect grammar, etc. with lower intelligence among our L1 peers, but that is a terrible approach when you’re communicating with non-native speakers. After all, I pretty much sound like I have the mental capacity of a preschooler when I try to speak Korean, but I’d like to think my mental acuity in general is pretty decent.
As the article notes, unless and until you can become truly fluent in another language, you lose so many of the tiny nuances that make language meaningful and give our communication flavor and personality. It’s a bit of a discouraging thought.
On the other hand, I know from experience that there are always ways to communicate without language, and that personality can and does shine through if you want it to. The sweetness and thoughtfulness of my co-teacher, the mischievousness of my kids, the intelligence in their eyes as they animatedly talk to their friends (or me) are all there regardless of how well they speak English. You just have to put in the effort to understand and work a little harder to discover the human being behind the language barrier.
Maybe, in some ways, the language barrier makes for building stronger bonds with certain people because you both have to be committed to open-minded communication, careful listening, and finding creative ways to express yourself.
Just something I’ve been pondering lately.
P.S. My day was totally made today by the following:
1. Beautifully cold, wet, gray, rainy weather all day. (Yes, I am that person who loves rain and gray skies and fog and gloominess… they make me happier than sunshine. I know I’m weird.)
2. The 1st grade boy who always greets me in this way: “OH MADDY TEACHER! HELLO! I LOVE YOU BABY!” … and then proceeds to add “I love you, baby” to the end of every answer he gives in class (or, if he doesn’t have an opportunity to answer a question, he just throws it in at random times; sometimes he switches it up with “I love you, man.” LOL).