My first month in Spain, walking around it’s streets, hearing English was startling and exciting, even in a touristy spot like Puerta del Sol. But though hearing my native language is scarce, you could easily live in Madrid without learning her native language.
I don’t write this to say that getting my Spanish minor was actually a waste of time. I truly believe that Spanish is a valuable language, and it deserves to be learned, especially by an English speaker. And, knowledge is a powerful thing. I can read books now that I couldn’t three months ago.
No, I write this saying that to know more than one language is extremely commendable, and the act of trying to learn an additional language should be appreciated just as much as being fluent in it.
But in the United States, especially in small, conservative areas like where I grew up, it’s really common to hear negative opinions about Native Spanish speakers who are trying to learn English.
The harshness that I have heard from English speakers who would criticize Spanish speakers is awful.
Phrases like, “You would not believe what I had to deal with. I was trying to order lunch today at McDonalds, and this man with a terrible Spanish accent was at the register, I don’t think he understood anything I said.”
I hate absolute statements, but in my case, I feel that a privileged woman like myself from the States needs to become the minority in another country in order to fully understand the perspective of minorities in her own. That’s something that I honestly believe. Perhaps more universally said is, “you have to wear someone else’s shoes.”
However, if the people in Spain treated me the way that English-learners are sometimes treated in the U.S., I would be more self-conscious than I already am. It would probably come to the point where I wouldn’t ever speak.
It is true, a lot of people don’t expect me to be able to speak any Spanish at all, but they think I’m a tourist. A dumb tourist, maybe, but that doesn’t mean they think that I’m inherently stupid.
Where I grew up, a lot of people had the idea that not knowing English meant you didn’t know anything. It meant you couldn’t do anything. But what Estadounidenses need to realize is that non-English speakers are trying so very hard to become fluent.
When Spaniards talk to me, I don’t always hear what they’ve said the first, second, or third time, even after months of having practiced and learned the language. It takes a long time for my brain to process it because learning a new language is no walk in the park. It’s difficult.
A lot of the time, the Spaniard that I’m talking to will just use what little “tourist” English he or she knows, and just point at things to communicate. You can survive in a country that speaks a language you don’t know by pointing and gesturing. I’ve had to do it before, and I got what I needed faster than it would have taken if I’d tried to stumble through my broken Spanish.
Anyone who is trying to learn a new language is trying, and deciding to do it the hard way. They should never be treated like they are stupid.