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!