Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Things I Will Miss About Egypt #3: Perceptions about Language

I’ve seen a lot of complaints on facebook from my American brethren about things like having to “press 1 for English.” This is usually followed by some sort of rant about how “in America, we speak English.” Most egregiously misuse English grammar and sentence structure as they smugly defend the language.

After four years of working with kids who are fluent in a minimum of three languages as an expectation of their culture and class, I'm sad I wasn't exposed to more languages as a child. I admire those who are brave enough to come to the U.S., where they can actually be ridiculed for not knowing English or for having an unfamiliar accent. When I attempted to learn Arabic in Egypt, I was met with kindness and tolerance. I experienced language as an exchange of cultures, as a potential bridge. I can only hope to practice that kind of tolerance when I return to the U.S. Though I understand that language is a complicated subject, that it is no less complicated in Egypt than it is in the U.S., and that in some ways I simplify the situation here, this feeling of open exchange and diversity is what I learned from "foreigners" while being a "foreigner" myself.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I get sad every time I hear an American be dismissive about someone's accent. In South Korea, when I trotted out my paultry Korean, I was met with kindness and yes even appreciation that I was trying, something I didn't do nearly enough. Since we in the States speak the fewest languages, we should be the most enthusiastic about those who speak English as a second, third, fouth language and most understanding of those who, like us, speak only one language.

And now I'm going to get off my soap box