on May 21 2010 07:11 pm 0

Worried about Being Laughed at? Don’t Let Rude People Hold You Back!

Some of the fear a lot of us have about jumping right into to speaking a new language comes from the idea that people will treat us badly because we don’t speak well. For the most part it’s not true, but it can happen.

Fact is, not everyone will be delighted with your attempts to learn their language. We all have bad days when dealing with a foreigner’s broken whateverese is not exactly appealing.

A blunt remark, tense sigh or frustrated grumble here and there may be unpleasant on the receiving end, but they’re understandable and forgivable.

Some people, however, are just plain rude and want to make you feel inferior. They may roll their eyes at your mispronunciations, frown and answer curtly in English when you speak to them in the local language, snicker and whisper to the person next to them, or mock your accent and gestures (and not in a “cute” way) while their friends laugh out loud. Yes, all these things have happened to me at one time or another. And I didn’t die…or even pass out.

If worry over how other people might treat you while you’re learning is holding you back, here are a few things you can do about it.

Get Some Backup

Make sure you’re not socially isolated, which is a real risk in a new country where you barely speak the language. Friends—people who like and respect you, that is—help you remember that in the grand scheme of things, some stranger’s rude remark doesn’t matter much. You vent, get sympathy or suggestions, and get over it so you can go back “out there” again.

If you’re trying to avoid speaking your own language, make friends with other well adjusted foreigners who speak the local language. But especially make friends with locals. When you vent to someone who understands the local culture, they can warn you if made a serious faux pas, tell you what you should have said instead, or reassure you that, yes, that chick who rolled her eyes was being rude and it wasn’t your fault.

Laughing at Versus Laughing with

Make sure you’re not taking things more personally than they’re meant. I first noticed the danger of this in a college French class conversation group lead by a native French speaker. It all started with the French word for nose, which is spelled nez, but pronounced “nay.”

One student pronounced it with a z several times. Finally the native speaker commented, almost as an aside, “And don’t say, ‘nezzz.’ It sounds ridiculous.” I thought of it as a little friendly teasing and I’d heard comments like that about my Russian, too.

After class, though, the mispronouncing student commented on how rude and hurtful the remark was. It’s anyone’s guess as to how the French guy meant that comment, but how it was interpreted could have made all the difference.

If you feel picked on, lighten the mood with your own retort. I can only imagine the class’s reaction if she’d said, “Well, sorry, but the French spell funny.” Whenever my young students teased me about not being able to roll my r’s well. I’d reply with, “Say, ‘this.’ Ththth.” Of course, they couldn’t. Stopped them in their tracks to realize maybe I’m not the only one who “talks funny.” In other words, if teased, tease back.

They’re Not Worth Your Time

As for people you’re fairly sure are trying to put you down, well, like Eleanor Roosevelt said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” It can be a bit of a shock to run into someone who deliberately tries to make you feel bad, but keep one thing in mind: these people are being rude.

Their mothers would be ashamed. Decent, kind people don’t sneer at and mock others, now do they? As far as I’m concerned, insulting someone because of their native language (and the fact that it isn’t yours) is right up there with insulting someone because of their race, religion, or gender.

So there’s no reason you should let these other people’s low class behavior make you hesitant to continue speaking your new language. Their attitude does not reflect on you as a person or a language learner. Forget them and keep practicing.

If you’re generally not too confident speaking a foreign language anywhere or with anyone, here are some more tips on overcoming the fear of speaking a foreign language.

Related posts:

  1. How to Overcome Fear of Speaking a Foreign Language
  2. Five Myths about Immersion that Can Ruin Your Language Holiday
  3. Foreign Language Learning for Introverts: Speaking Practice Tips for Immersion Situations
  4. Authentic Material: Speed up Your Learning Speed and Boost Your Motivation
  5. How to Revive “Forgotten” Language Knowledge

Filed under Mindset

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