I must first admit that I’ve stolen the first sentence in the the title of this post from Kat Lewin, author of “Out and Aboutski: In Russia, language speaks you”. While this article is specifically about the difficulties of Russian, rest assured that there are plenty of other challenging languages out there.
Despite all the funny mistakes and mis-communication, this author definitely deserves kudos for making an effort, both to learn and to speak the local language. See this article for the opinion of one Korean woman on EFL teachers who don’t make any effort to learn Korean.
While most of us who try to learn the local language certainly do hope to improve…being a beginner and/or making mistakes are both valuable experiences. Both give you perspective: on what it is like to be a learner; on how frustrating it can be not to be able to explain yourself; on what it is like for someone to make assumptions about your mental ability based on your language ability; on what it would be like to be illiterate for whatever reason (to some extent).
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This last one may sound a bit extreme, but each time I visit the video store (where dvd’s are in the original language but titles and summaries are in the local language) or grocery store (where products have explanations in sometimes as many as ten languages and yet not in English), it strikes me that I am more reliant on pictures than words. As a native English speaker and an intermediate-level speaker of another Slavic language, I am hardly starting from scratch…and yet for all intents and purposes, there are many situations where I could be considered “illiterate”. Certainly I manage, and in fact, I have fun with it, but actually being in this position gives me a valuable perspective.