March 4, 2014

Whose job is harder?

The person trying to speak a new language, or the native speaker who has to adapt?

Last night I was hanging out in Turkish with someone who was skilled at slowing down, choosing words I would probably know, and repeating ideas in different ways. It was great. It was like being bathed in exactly the right temperature of water.

I think his job was harder than mine.

I thought back to times when I was the native speaker, as an English language teacher and as a friend and roommate to people from different languages. I remembered the strain of trying so hard to always phrase something in a way that would be understood.

But maybe it depends on how hard the person is willing to work. Some native speakers are useless, and make their jobs easy by essentially not doing them. That is, they don't adapt their language at all, and when the communication fails, they blame the learner.

I am grateful to have found people willing to make the effort.

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