Dear Native Speaker of my Desired Target Language,
Did you know that the average number of words that an intermediate speaker of a language knows is anywhere from 2000-4000? I’ve been talking to you the entire soccer game in ____________(Italian in my case, but insert any target language here). I made the assumption that you could sense my enthusiasm, my efforts, and my ability to communicate with you. We did not struggle to understand each other which is why I felt my heart literally sink to my stomach when you requested “the English menu” at the restaurant. I have lived here, I live here, I conjugated irregular verbs in the present, past, and future tense, and even tried using the subjunctive during our conversation. So all I want to do is scream is “WTF”. Why, after all this, did you think I would want the English menu? If you felt that this gesture would make me feel more comfortable, let me assure you, it doesn’t. It keeps me in the corner, the non-integrated, expat corner, and I want you to know now…nobody puts Baby in the corner! What seems like a favor to an English-speaker living in a different country has the opposite effect to that which was intended, it is detrimental not only to language acquisition but to self-confidence. If you didn’t do it for my convenience, that leaves us with one of two options for motive. If you did it to show off, stop it. If you’re speaking English constantly, despite my attempts to use ____________(target language), then I can only assume that this is a show of bravura, in which case let’s get this out of the way: *applause and cheers*. There’s your praise, but I don’t want an encore thank you very much. The third possible option for incessant English is that you want to practice. Unless I’m seeing your face through a computer screen and there is an iTalki logo somewhere, this is not a language exchange. If we’ve just met and we don’t have an “I teach you, you teach me” agreement, what makes you assume that I’m automatically your new private mothertongue teacher? If that’s what you think this is, let me start the clock, I charge by the hour. I just want to be a normal girl, out for beers with friends, old and new, in the country that I live in, in the language that I live in.
One more thing before I go: I want to tell you that I am not defined by the one word that I don’t know. Just because we were talking and I had to stop and ask how to say A WORD does not negate the other 2000 words in my head. This in no way is a plea to switch to English. I fail to understand how “come si dice _______ in italiano?” is somehow magically translated into “OMG help me, I’ve lost all ability to speak so please, please speak to me in English!”. This is not what I’m asking, what I’m asking is for you to help me make those words in my head 2001.
If you, dear Italian English-learner, come to Canada. I will happily speak to you in English even though I can hear your Italian accent. I know that this is why you are here. Yes, I studied Italian, I speak Italian, and we could easily have a lovely chit-chat in Italian but I am taking my cue from you. Should you choose to switch, by all means, let’s switch. Should you switch-back, well, I’m right behind you. You crossed the ocean for this adventure, for this challenge and it is my duty, as a native Canadian, to give you the chance to grow your language skills and bask in authenticity. So please, follow my lead when it’s the other way around.
Every language-learner, expat, immigrant that ever existed
P.S. Here are the situational circumstances where I’m willing to make an exception:
- there is someone amongst our group who does not understand the target language therefore English must be the lingua franca out of respect
- we have agreed to speak English as part of a language exchange or I am your legitimate teacher
- my skill level is causing a legit inconvenience in the conversation because you actually cannot decipher any meaning at all from my sentences
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