12 April 2013

Five Minute Friday ~ Here

Every immigrant who comes here 
should be required 
within five years 
to learn English or leave the country.

~ Theodore Roosevelt 

My sentiments used to echo those of President Roosevelt. 

My husband's, as well as many of my friends, probably still do. Yet, I can't, after having lived as an expat in a foreign country for several years and struggling without a ton of success to try and learn another language, without the benefit of resources and money to pay someone who knows how to teach, and almost nothing available geared toward my preferred learning styles, it is really hard for me to be so dogmatic. 

Being here in Niger, walking a mile (or more) in  language learning flip-flops with the hot season sand burning the soles of my feet, I'm learning to appreciate the "immigrant"/expat perspective on language learning. My guess is most people moving to a foreign country have great hopes, good intentions and lofty aspirations of learning the language of their host or new home country. After all, it is common sense. They'll go further and succeed more quickly if they can communicate with ease in the language of the people around them. They'll watch TV, listen to the radio, live immersed in new sounds, rhythms, etc., and somehow absorb this new language. 

But guess what. Life gets in the way. And unless a person make a concerted effort, she naturally and almost unknowingly slips into her more comfortable tongue every single time possible - for living in a new place takes so much effort, she's already exhausted and risking mis-communication or simply sounding stupid really has no appeal.

Yes. Current citizens holler to those wanting to become a part of their nation "Learn the language!" But most, at least in the US, have no idea just exactly what they are asking another to do because they've never been forced to survive in a tongue not their own. Is there a more compassionate way to address this issue? If you live near Ann Arbor and your new to the area Pakistani neighbor awkwardly lets you know that she'd like to practice her English, do you take the time to invite her for tea a couple of times each week and patiently sit with her and encourage her to use her language? Or do you see foreigner wearing a head covering and wonder if her bearded husband is actually a terrorist and an oppressor of women? Me? I'd probably have those or some similar sorts of thoughts and then hope I'd listen to the Holy Spirit as He convicts me and begin opening my home and building a relationship with a woman I'm sure to find is much more like me than she is different, even though our home cultures are literally worlds apart.

And I'd also hope I'd make the effort to great her in her language, even as she becomes more comfortable in mine.

When I'm standing here, in my shoes, it is easy to ignore those different, other "heres." But they are every bit as real.

Yep! It's another Five Minute Friday with Lisa Jo... even if I'm running late today. Hope you'll give it a try this week - it really is a great exercise - and be sure to leave me a comment with the link if you do.

Head over to Lisa Jo's to read all sorts of other 5 minute musings on the word "here," and to see the "how-to" rules!



  1. Hello,
    I totally agree with what you are saying. It is not easy to learn another language unless you are a child. I learned French in school but actually speaking it is very difficult. We have friends who are natural born French speaking who learned English but they revert to their native tongue at home or with French speaking friends - it is easier.
    It would be worth it to try to help someone learn English that to grumble and judge. Yes - listen to the Holy Spirit.

    a great post. Wonderful to meet you at FMF.


    1. French came fairly easily, even as an adult, when i learned it. i totally attribute that as God's grace to a preggo already mama to three littles trying to go to language school. the tribal languages here, however... ay yai yai yai yai... not so straightforward or simple to learn.

      always easier to grumble and complain, isn't it?

  2. Interesting thoughts, not Just Do It, but How can I help?
    Thanks for visiting me this FMF.

    1. world would be a different place if we took that approach with most things - our kids, our spouses, our students, our employees...

      and thank you kindly for the return visit!

  3. Some food for thought. It reminds me of the quote by Spencer - about contempt prior to investigation.
    "There is a principle which is a bar against all information which is proof against all arguments and which cannot fail to keep a man in everlasting ignorance -- that principle is contempt prior to investigation. -- Herbert Spencer"

    I have some friends who did spend time w/other women - teaching them crafts, language and arts - they enjoyed it very much. Everyone learned something.

    Good post. Great reveal of thinking about things and especially listening to the Holy Spirit.

    Thanks, Jenn
    Thanks also for stopping by my blog and post.

    1. Wow... great quote! Who is Herbert Spencer, and how are you familiar with him?

      Glad you popped over and said hi! Great to "meet" you!

  4. Hi Richelle,

    Your personal experience and your willingness to change your perspective speaks volume about your grace and wisdom growing...I was born in the US but when I visited Asia, people expected me to speak fluently because I was Chinese although my parents spoke only English to me...so I sympathize with you.

    1. Hey Dolly,

      The literature on "third culture kids" (you'd quite likely qualify, even though not a "kid" any more), says that the life as the "hidden immigrant" is very stressful and challenging because people expect you to get it and to be totally at home because you look like you should be... yet that isn't who you are so you don't. :-)

  5. Very well said, Richelle! Every time I've had rough days here, I've tried to think about how it will help me be more compassionate to immigrants once I return home to the U.S. I was hoping to be an ELL teacher right away, especially since I'll be coming right out of a similar but reversed experience. Unfortunately I don't have enough ELL credit hours to teach ELL in Illinois right away, but I'm looking to see if God will use us in other ways to reach out to newcomers.

    1. Hey Kara ~ i think you're going to be a pretty amazing ell teacher one of these days, if/when God opens up those doors for you.

      our last furlough, we hooked up with one of the university programs for international students and had this group of about three guys into our home on a regular basis to play games, visit, hang out... they taught us how to make dumplings. it was a really neat opportunity and our entire family enjoyed it.

      thanks for your kind and encouraging words! :-)

  6. Thank you for sharing your perspective! It's a beautiful one. The truth is unless you have walked in another's shoes you don't get it, no matter how sympathetic you might try to be. I appreciate you sharing this!

    Christy @ A Heartening Life

    1. and i appreciate your kind words. thanks for stopping by and saying hi!


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