Have you ever learned a second or third language or more? Have you ever thought about it? What were your reasons? What was your motivation?
I love language. I always have–whether it is English grammar (my daughters are not nearly as thrilled with that passion right now), learning American Sign Language in my teens, or my current endeavor of learning Arabic.
Learning ASL and working on Arabic now are valuable to me and bring me joy, but I don’t have to…I speak the language of the country I am in, the country of my birth. I could blithely go along never learning a word of any other language. I have that option. It’s not a good option, but it is a valid one–for me.
That is not always the case.
Life often moves people around, forcing them to add a second or third language to their vocabulary. And that task is rarely easy.
Imagine you have to move to another country. With just a suitcase of belongings and facing the fact you will likely never return to the place you are leaving. Imagine also this country you are going to does not speak your mother tongue. Take that further and imagine the new country will not give you any time to learn the new country, you must get a full-time job immediately, regardless of the language barrier.
This, my friends, is the experience of refugees, some immigrants, and asylum seekers in America. Other countries provide financial support for these immigrant people groups and families, for years if necessary, so they can spend some time learning the local language but America, in true pull yourself up by your boot straps fashion, offers no support or time for language learning beyond giving a list of local English classes that are hopefully near their home or apartment.
I can tell you language is hard to learn. And that isn’t helped by age. I watch kids pick up English within months when young, like 5; ASL was quite easy to learn at 15 but now, oh my word, now Arabic is just not penetrating my brain.
Now imagine doing that while supporting a family, adjusting to a new culture, and mourning the loss of what you have left behind.
As well as learning a language faster, young kids may find themselves shedding more and more of their accent while for older kids and adults, the accent may lighten but many sounds will continue to be different than a native speaker. It is normal, natural, and to be expected. But sometimes people forget that and just cop an attitude because it takes more effort to understand some of the words.
People do not typically struggle with language or an accent because they are lazy or stupid–they struggle because it is hard, the process of learning and using a new language is demoralizing. I am a college educated woman, Arabic is my third langauge and yet, at best I sound like a 2 year old after three years of studying with native speakers.
Please take just a moment to consider this next time you are talking to someone who counts English as their second (or more!!) language. A little patience will go a long way to making communication easier and enjoyable. Trust me, the effort is worth it.
“Do you know what a foreign accent is? It’s a sign of bravery.” – Amy Chua ♥️♥️♥️