Open Your Eyes, Open your Mind

Open Your Mind

I woke up this morning to a tweet from an old classmate, which slightly angered and offended me.  It read along the lines of no offense to ESL learners, but why don’t you try and learn the language?  Why was I so offended and angered by this? Well, I am that ESL learner right now.  I am that person who is opening herself to judgement for living in a foreign country and not being able to speak the language.  Though I’m more of a JSL (which is probably not an official term), it’s still the same situation.

Then I thought about it, this is probably the thought process of hundreds, probably thousands of people in the US.  Why don’t you just learn our language?  Being an expat, even though it has been only 6 months, has taught me so many things about being more understanding and patient.  Just stop and think for a moment, are you one of those people who think just learn our language already.  Have you ever been in a situation where you were the language learner in a foreign country?  If not, step into their shoes for a moment.  Many of these people you encounter are most likely not there to study abroad.  They aren’t there to study the language, but to work, support their family, or try to make a better lifestyle than back in their home country.  If you’re at work for eight hours a day, then have to come home and take care of yourself or your family, that leaves very little time to learn a language.  Not to mention self teaching yourself a language or going to a language class takes a lot of time and practice.  It’s very difficult to learn a language, I know I’m struggling right now.

Before you judge someone for not knowing your own language, take a minute and step back.  You don’t know their story.  Maybe they do want to learn English but they’re too busy, maybe they’re too afraid to use the little English they know.  It is possible to live in a country for 10 years and not acquire the language, if you’re not actively learning it.  In my personal experience, I study when I can, but sometimes I’m too tired or have other things to do, and sitting down to learn Japanese takes a backseat.  There are times when I’m afraid to speak in fear of making mistakes and sounding stupid.  Speaking is the most difficult part of a language for me.  Trying to put together a sentence to get my point across can be so daunting and tiring.

I pose this challenge for you today: open your eyes, open your mind.  Before you complain or judge something, take a step back and think, do I know the whole story?  Am I being too rash?  I believe being more understanding helps lead to more positivity and being less irked about something you can’t control.  Being more understanding helps you see the world in a different view.  Take a deep breathe and open your mind.

Have you ever had the experience of being the second language learner?  How did people treat you?  For expats, from your experiences, are there anything that has made you more open minded?

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16 comments

  1. Rachel Murphree

    Ugh, as someone who teaches a lot of second language learners, that comment offends me too. Does that person speak a second language? Does he or she have any idea how ridiculously hard it is to learn a new language, especially as an adult? I feel like no one can make a “learn English” comment unless they have mastered a second language themselves.

    – Rachel @ With Love, Rachel

  2. Erika Sevigny

    I haven’t personally had this specific experience, but I really think you make a good universal point: Before you complain or judge something, take a step back and think,do I know the whole story?

    It’s too easy to make broad statements condemning behaviors that we know nothing about. This is why being open-minded is so so important! :)

    • Mallory || Sweet Smores

      Exactly! Many times, people expect others to act or think like they do. People are too wrapped up in their own worlds and don’t realize that everyone has different stories and practices. This is why I think traveling, or at least broadening your mind to others’ cultures is so important: to get a better understanding of people.

  3. Erika

    Yes, I think this is something people only get if they have ever tried to live in a country that speaks a different language. People in the US can be so unforgiving and lacking compassion regarding this! It’s really hard to learn another language and even if you can communicate the basics, it’s so difficult to actually master it and speak fluently. It takes not only time and dedication, but bravery for some people, too. You feel like a fool for so long! It can be so frustrating!

    • Mallory || Sweet Smores

      It’s so unfortunate that so many people’s mindset in the US are similar. I wish I could just throw everyone into a foreign country to experience what it’s like being the foreigner. Traveling really does open your eyes to the world and gives you a better understanding of people.

      I feel like a fool every single day here, which makes me want to give up at times, but I keep pushing myself to keep practicing. It can be so difficult and frustrating sometimes! I’m mainly frustrated in myself for not being able to communicate, but it’s those times I have to take a step back and tell myself, it takes time.

  4. Mel @ The Nectar Collective

    I love this post! I don’t know your feelings about JET, but I felt like so many of the other JET teachers were unsympathetic to the students we taught. It riled me to hear teachers complaining about “dumb” students or that Japanese students are just bad at English. There are so many other factors when it comes to learning a language. I love that you applied that idea to your own life in learning Japanese. Living abroad taught me so many things about Japan, but also many about the US, too. I’m so glad you’re having this experience now, even though this particular situation is an angering one. But overall, looking at your home country from an outsider’s perspective will change you in such positive ways. At least, that was one of the biggest things I took away from it. :) Thanks for sharing your perspective on this — I loved this reminder.

    • Mallory || Sweet Smores

      Thanks Melyssa! :) I’m grateful that I haven’t come across anyone who has complained about their students’ knowledge of English, because that would frustrate me, but I can definitely see that happening. I’m so happy that I have this opportunity. So far, my experience abroad has been so enriching and humbling. I’ve grown to appreciate so many things both in the US and Japan and I’ve become so much more patient and understanding. Even though learning a language is super difficult, sometimes you just got to laugh at yourself when you think you’re going on a field trip, but in reality, your classes were going to stay together (I got the words Ise and issei mixed up) :)

  5. Ashlee

    Hi Mallory! I saw your blog over at the Fresh Face Friday blog hop and decided to pop over and say hi. I have a friend teaching English in Seoul and I know she’s been struggling to learn the language for the past couple years. I think the whole “why don’t you learn our language” mentality here in the US is just ridiculous. Learning a second language is definitely challenging, and people should keep an open mind instead of assuming someone is just being lazy if they can’t speak the language. Anyway, I’m your newest follower via Bloglovin, can’t wait to read more from you!

    • Mallory || Sweet Smores

      Hi Ashlee! Thank you for stopping by :) People are so quick to jump to conclusions and castigate those who don’t follow what they think is “right.” With a little understanding, the world can become such a happier place. Unfortunately, it’s easier said that done.

      Thanks for the follow! :) Hopefully my Bloglovin will start working again soon! It hasn’t been posting my recent posts for some reason.

  6. Kaelene Spence

    I currently am in that situation and it is so difficult! Even though everyone can speak really good english to me everything else around me is Icelandic and at times makes me feel like a helpless little kid. It takes time to understand a new language and I think coming from the US with so little emphasis on language studies does not help at all. I think its sad that we don’t have a better language education growing up, would help broaden our minds so much!

    • Mallory || Sweet Smores

      I would have loved to have learned another language when I was younger. I don’t think I really appreciated learning Spanish from 8th grade until 11th grade. While I had a lot of fun in those classes, I was disheartened by the fact that I couldn’t say anything. I think looking back on it, we didn’t practice speaking a lot. It was mostly reading and writing, which I feel like most language classes focus on. I know, even here in Japan, they mostly focus on reading and writing English as opposed to speaking it, so many people aren’t able to speak English.

  7. Megan @ livingafternoon.com

    Anyone who has ever lived in another country would never ask the question “Why don’t you just learn our language?” After spending 3 years in Germany and studying Japanese the past 6 months in preparation for our move to Okinawa (next week!), I’ve realized how vulnerable and confused you can feel. I would never want to make someone feel that way in my own country. It all really comes down to tolerance and patience which unfortunately many Americans lack.

    • Mallory || Sweet Smores

      Good luck with your move to Okinawa! I haven’t been there yet, but I’m sure it’s a beautiful place. I feel vulnerable and confused like 90% of the day. It’s so unfortunate that many Americans lack in qualities like tolerance and patience, but I guess what we can do is try to spread the word to try to see these “problems” from a different perspective, to try to understand one another.

  8. Bailie @ The Hemborg Wife

    Wonderful wonderful post, after almost three years in Sweden I am just getting comfortable speaking the little Swedish I know with my husband. My husbands family does not understand how terrifying it is for me to try in front of them.

    • Mallory || Sweet Smores

      Thank you Bailie! It does take a lot of courage to speak in another language. Ah! Speaking in front of your husband’s family sounds so scary! Recently, I feel like I got more self conscious about speaking Japanese to others, I’m not sure why… I’m more hesitant, but at the same time I know that practicing no matter how many mistakes will help me gain more confidence in my abilities and help me improve.

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