Today's insight is a little long but worth it.
Stop Apologising for Your "Broken" English (or any other language)
When I first moved to Italy in January 2014, I spoke no Italian. Zero. Niente. I realise now that the reason I could do this was because of the power and privilege being a white British woman afforded (and still affords) me. Basically, white British (American, Canadian, Australian) people can go anywhere in the world without a problem, even if we don't speak the language. After all, everyone speaks English, right? Wrong.
Now, I'm a linguist so I certainly didn't move to Italy and not plan on learning the language. I was working long hours into late evening most days so I was trying to teach myself Italian in between lessons where I taught English to Italians! Even though the original plan was to be here for 5 months, almost seven years later, I'm still here. When I first arrived, every place I went into, be it office or shop or train station, my introduction was always "I'm sorry, I don't speak Italian. Do you speak English?". Well, I'll tell you now that the response was always "No". Cue me using broken Italian to explain what I wanted.
This went on for several months, always the same routine. I'd apologise, ask if they spoke English, accept the inevitable, then make myself understood. Perhaps the situation would have been different if I'd moved to a big city like Rome or Milan. I probably would have met plenty of people who spoke English but then again, I'd have never learnt Italian that way either.
One day, I can't remember exactly when, I decided to stop apologising for my Italian. After all, I spoke three languages (English, French and Spanish); I had nothing to apologise for. Now, I would like to point out that during this time, only once did someone get annoyed at me for my lack of Italian - a call centre worker for an Internet company. It wasn't because I had encountered bad attitudes that I decided to stop apologising; it was because of what it was doing to my self-confidence.
Every time I apologised to someone for something that wasn't my fault, it chipped away at my self-esteem. I had nothing to apologise for. No, I didn't speak great Italian, but I did speak three other languages and I was learning. Also, every time I asked someone if they spoke English,it took a learning opportunity away from myself. If they'd said yes, I would have lost the chance to improve. It was self-sabotage at its finest.
So what am I saying? You have absolutely no reason to apologise for or feel ashamed of your bad/broken/poor English (or French/Spanish/Arabic). You are doing something that a lot of people will never have the guts to do. You are putting yourself out there and learning something new. There will be times when you feel foolish (like the time I said "penis" instead of "pity"). But that's when we learn. After all, you can't learn to juggle without dropping a few balls!
As a teacher, one of the biggest mistakes my adult students make is focussing on grammar. Often they think if they learn the rules by heart and do all the exercises, they'll be able to speak English. Unfortunately this isn't true. The only way you can learn to speak another language is through...speaking! Don't wait until you can say the perfect sentence because if you do that, it'll never happen. Nobody likes to feel stupid but mistakes are proof we're learning. Nobody learns to juggle without dropping a few balls!
How many of us say we don't have time to learn a language? Even if you spend just a few minutes a day writing, it's better than nothing. Have you ever tried the 30-Day Writing Challenge? It's something I participate in and also encourage my students to do. All you have to do is commit to writing a few sentences each day in the language you're learning. Whenever my students try this challenge, they usually find two things happen:
1. By the end of the month, they're spending more than just a few minutes writing. After all, the more you write, the easier it becomes!
2. They notice a big difference in their writing ability. Their vocabulary and sentence structure improves but so does their confidence.
Would you be willing to try? After all, it's only a month!
A Funny language fact!
I am a polyglot, currently studying and speaking 7 languages 🤪
To spice things up I have invented a new expression - "Katė Tokyo"🐱🗼
( eng. Cat in Tokyo) instead of "Nieko Tokio", which almost literally means a Cat in Tokyo, if translated to Japanese🤷🏻♀️
"Nieko tokio" in Lithuanian
(eng. Nothing special, don't worry, it's OK) sounds like neko - 猫 - cat 🐱 in Japanese and Tokyo - 東京 - capital of Japan🗼
Therefore it's literally translated as Cat Tokyo😁
So, if asked what happened today?
I would simply say - Katė Tokyo or Cat in Tokyo 《🐱🗼》
and make people laugh! 😁
Of course it almost always must be followed by an explanation, otherwise the whole expression wouldn't even make sense 🤷🏻♀️
What are your funny expressions you've invented? 💫
And if you're intrested in an easy way to learn languages, let's talk!👇