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Today I’ll tell you about a phrase I heard the other day on the radio and which got me thinking about how foreign English speakers are sometimes perceived among the native English speaking public.
So I was listening to my favourite morning radio show and as usual listeners were sending in text messages and the DJ was reading them out. Among the other messages there was one that wouldn’t make a 100% sense to a native English speaker yet it was obvious what the listener had meant by it.
I don’t really remember what exactly it was, to be honest with you. I just know that it was an awkward word combination not used in real life. It is, of course, quite natural for any native speaker to spot such an odd word combination. And indeed, any of us foreign English speakers having spent long enough time among other English speakers would also notice something that doesn’t sound right.
Little that the radio DJ knew about how foreigners speak, he jumped to a conclusion that the person who had texted in that particular message hadn’t got a good command of English.
You think it’s not a big deal?
It is, and let me tell you why.
The thing is that it’s very easy for a native English speaker to make assumptions about an ESL speaker. I actually think it might originate from a widespread media myth that a fluent foreign English speaker speaks just like a native English speaker with the only difference being a more or less distinct accent.
I’ve often wandered why is it that when they portray foreign English speakers in films they only use native English speaking actors who are good at putting on different accents? In real life even a very decent foreign English speaker would make an odd mistake here and there in terms of a language style and even grammar! Especially, when that person is under stress or being hurried – it can easily happen, and it still happens to me sometimes ❗
This brings us to the next point which is that it may be very hurtful for a foreign English speaker to hear that his English is broken, bad and he hasn’t got a good command of English IF IT’S NOT TRUE!
I’m not saying there aren’t millions and millions of beginner English learners out there with broken and conversationally bad English (no offence meant, this is merely stating a fact). Neither am I claiming you can’t find foreigners whose English is impeccable and you wouldn’t tell them apart from native English speakers.
You see, all I’m writing in this article is dedicated to other foreigners like me who have achieved a level of English that they feel comfortable with.
In other words, we know that we CAN speak, write and understand other English speakers quite well… but still some wise guy doesn’t feel bothered making a completely stupid comment about someone who’s listening to his radio show, texting in a message and waiting for it to be read out…
Do you see where I’m coming from? Could someone who wouldn’t have a good command of English even comprehend what’s being discussed on an English speaking radio show? Of course not! 😡
When I heard that comment being made about the foreigner’s text message, I felt very hurt. Yes, I felt personally hurt by the flippant remark because I know from my past experience how it feels to be wrongly taken for a struggling English speaker while in reality I know that my English is very good.
I know what it feels like when you’re making an insignificant mistake when speaking with a native English speaker yet the person who speaks with you thinks your English is terrible and starts speaking in an exaggerated, slow manner as if speaking to a child.
Still, I don’t blame the radio DJ. Seriously, even though I called his remark flippant and stupid, he didn’t do it deliberately because I know him and he’s a very nice and compassionate guy. He just made a simple assumption based on what he knows about foreigners and to be honest with you – many of foreigners living in Ireland have difficulties with English basics, I can’t deny that.
I don’t blame him for hurting my feelings either, by the way. There’s a saying – “if it that doesn’t kill you, it makes you stronger”. I think that we, foreigners, have to do just that when it comes to hearing wrong assumptions about our English fluency. We simply have to develop a thick skin and ignore any comments about our English skills unless it’s constructive criticism. We always have to keep our ears open for something we can learn from.
I hope the guy or girl who texted in the message to the morning radio show took a notice of what was the correct way of saying the particular thing and disregarded the remark about not having a good command of English.
And so should you, my friends! Just let it go, and be content in the knowledge that your English is good enough. How do I know? Well, you wouldn’t be reading my website otherwise, would you?
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