Negative Experiences in Language Learning

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Cavesa
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Re: Negative Experiences in Language Learning

Postby Cavesa » Sat Jan 16, 2021 5:59 pm

CarlyD's post reminds me of so many things, I empathise completely. Yes, it said how we are all as a society being told that the primary use and purpose of learning a language is the connection to a culture and talking to the people, but the reality is more complicated. The two main strategies to face this are either polite yet assertive resistence (my favourite choice, which needs training, and isn't always that appreciated, but it often gives the results), or just accepting it (which seems to be yours. I think it is no less hard and I admire you for going this path without giving up).

CarlyD wrote:... I was thrilled that I could understand their conversation, until I realized that they were making fun of "stupid white people that think they can speak Spanish."


Yes, this happens. Not only with the Spanish natives. We can often hear very unpleasant stuff about us in another language. The idea behind what you've heard is disgusting, and would be considered racist, if it wasn't a joke about the white people. The small grain of "truth" is the extremely sad attitude all over the language learning world, that "Spanish is an easy language", which means tons of people with no real interest in learning a language get a Spanish phrasebook and learn three sentences with a bad pronunciation. And they often expect to be praised for that.

But yes, I found it humiliating too, when a native Spanish exchange student in Prague asked: "oh, cool, you've been learning Spanish, what phrases can you say?" It was extremely humiliating. Yes, I spoke rather normally in Spanish, but just the assumption that I must be a moron did really hurt. Knowing you've already been judged before you open your mouth never helps. And what else didn't help? A few "fellow Spanish learners" in the group, who started acting like circus monkeys, showing off their one or two dumb phrases. These people are actively strenghtening the prejudices out of ignorance.


A good part of my job was answering the phone to callers all over the state and a large number of them were Spanish-only speakers who would call, say "español?" and then wait for a native speaker. Even though I was perfectly able to clearly ask them for their name, etc., the majority flatly refused to speak to anyone but a native speaker. It got very depressing trying to learn a language where I didn't appear to be welcome.

Well, it is in some cases possible to insist. If you're able to do your job in the language, they shouldn't just ask for someone else. Perfecting the first impression over phone, that's a reasonable precaution. Asking in Spanish, whether they really want to wait instead of just quickly proceeding, that could work.

It depends. If you've got too much work anyways, it is perfectly logical to not push the issue. But it is sad to not get your investment back.

2. How did you process the experience?
I basically stopped speaking to people and kept to translating various Spanish statements and documents that were submitted.

3. What was the outcome? Were you able to continue on your TL, or did you choose to move on?
I would still like my Spanish to be much better to watch telenovelas and various detective shows, and to read some of the books I've got. But it's hard when I don't really connect any more with the people or culture.

I've never had an issue with German--but I wonder if part of it is that I'm ethnically German (German/Slovenian) and I already think of it as "my culture" so any issue would just be with that particular person and not the people in general.


Of course it won't be much of an issue with the German speakers. Not only you are the same ethnicity, but even if you were not, the contemporary Germany and Austria have many citizens and native German speakers of various ethnicities. Germany is also a country with lots of immigrants, so people are expected to speak the language at various levels, similarly to people from various background being expected to speak English in the US. Outside of the German speaking countries, they natives still expect to be addressed in German as one of the usual options, sometimes even too much (every coin has two sides). On the contrary, the Spanish natives in the anglophone countries are not used to others learning their language, at least not more than a few phrases, and might even be bitter about having to cater to the anglophone world sometimes (my guess, based on what I hear and read).
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Re: Negative Experiences in Language Learning

Postby Querneus » Sat Jan 16, 2021 7:54 pm

Radioclare wrote:Unfortunately these were middle-aged men so it's harder to make excuses for them :lol: I found out later that there's a known phenomenon in Esperanto called 'La leĝo de Tonjo', which states that the longer an online discussion in Esperanto lasts, the probability that it's derailed by a debate about grammar or vocab approaches 1. It's kind of a spoof on Godwin's law, but it often does feel like it's true.

Yeahhh... we have the same problem in online Latin, although we don't have a name for it. Too much linguistics, not enough fun.
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Re: Negative Experiences in Language Learning

Postby Caromarlyse » Sun Jan 17, 2021 9:39 am

I've had bad experiences, but they don't seem to have put me off - I think I might be too pig-headed... I do recall that my brother's French teacher at school insisted on changing his name to a "French" name. It struck me as stupid at the time, as his actual name exists in French too, just with different spelling and pronunciation to accord with French rules, yet the teacher went for something different. He of course got mocked for it, as a young teenage boy didn't take too kindly to that, and effectively gave up. One of my own experiences at school was a German teacher mocking me for saying Schwarzbrot was black bread, when "of course that doesn't exist; the proper translation is brown bread". I remember thinking that the Schwarzbrot I'd seen in the kitchen after a visit from German relatives had definitely looked more black than brown, and was not at all what you'd think of if someone said "brown bread" to you. It didn't put me off; it just confirmed my view that the teacher was an idiot ;-).
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Re: Negative Experiences in Language Learning

Postby ChicoAchso » Sun Jan 17, 2021 2:20 pm

I can oly remember when I was at my second year learning german I was using ICQ to practice, just having a chat with whoever I could find (you could search users for spoken languages). While trying to communicate I miss wrote "Bisschen" (a little) with "wichsen" (masturbate) and the girl didn't take that well (and it wasn't on purpose, I didn't even know the word).
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Re: Negative Experiences in Language Learning

Postby tarvos » Sun Jan 17, 2021 8:55 pm

"But it's difficult!"

Well, you're drawing minute lines on my arms, and I don't seem to be complaining about that, now do I?
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Re: Negative Experiences in Language Learning

Postby garyb » Mon Jan 18, 2021 10:42 am

Cavesa wrote:Thanks, Garyb. That's one of the most beautiful things anyone has ever said about me. Seeing the world with both the good and bad, and not being silent about it, that's usually not a popular thing. I value you as well for describing your experience with language learning so openly too, and without giving up! I totally agree that the rose and sparkles picture portrayed most typically by the white rich young healthy cismale internet polyglots is definitely not good for the LL newbies!
I appreciate the praise although it does feel a bit like words are being put in my mouth and I absolutely wasn't attacking these internet polyglots based on their race or gender or anything like that and don't condone these kinds of comments, at least without clarification on why all these traits must make their experience different and easier. I'm pretty much all of these adjectives and, as is well-documented in my log, I've certainly not had the roses and sparkles experience, so I feel it's more the case that either these people are being selective and only showing the good parts (especially if it helps them sell their image) or they have the kind of delusional self-confidence that makes people react better and makes them ignore and barely even notice bad reactions. Probably easier to have that kind of confidence if you're in a "favoured" group, but it's not automatic. I do however appreciate that some of these aspects give me advantages: I have the funds and health to travel, and being a non-white Italian learner doesn't sound much fun. I remember Jhumpa Lahiri's accounts of going into shops in Italy and I consider myself lucky that I might be taken seriously at least until I open my mouth, rather than as soon as I walk in and they see me!

I also appreciated CarlyD's post. Maybe it's just my perception but there does seem to be a stereotype in the language learning community that Spanish native speakers are particularly friendly and helpful towards learners of their language, but I've certainly seen occasions similar to the ones described there and by Cavesa, towards other people as well as me. I remember one time when I was at a gathering where there was a woman who had lived in Madrid and spoke (as far as I could tell) near-perfect Spanish, and a couple of Spanish guys were responding to her in English and doing the "what things do you know how to say?" routine. I've had plenty good and plenty bad experiences with speakers of all my languages. They just tend to be of a slightly different type, for example Italians are usually quite surprised to hear a foreigner speak their language while French and Spanish are used to hearing it being butchered so these influence their respective reactions.
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Re: Negative Experiences in Language Learning

Postby Iversen » Mon Jan 18, 2021 11:25 am

chove wrote:I reckon I'd be horribly embarrassed if a non-Scot used Scots words I didn't know. Impressed, but mainly embarrassed.


If I used Scots words which a native speaker of Scots didn't know then the reason could be that those words aren't used any more (or never ever have been in common use by native speakers of Scots). I can't know whether this is the case since those Scotspersons that don't care about the local vernacular could be as badly informed as I am about its nooks and crannies. But people who really know their Scots are welcome to comment on my travesty o' the bonny Scots leid in mee log thread - ah cannae garantee that it will get better, but I would like to know whether the stuff I write is comprehensible at all or not.

Here in Denmark I could definitely imagine that some people don't know the local dialect of the area where they live - simply because they don't care to listen to the few persons who dare to keep speaking dialect even to foreign invaders speaking Standard Danish and they rarely see anything written in dialect so they don't really need to care about it. In other words, I imagine that the situation here is more or less as dismal as in Scotland if you like local vernaculars.

I noticed the reference to Latinos in the USA being sceptical about non-Latinos trying to speak speak Spanish. I have had one case where I went into a motel in Arizona. There were some people at the counter who already spoke in Spanish to the receptionist so of course I asked for a room in Spanish. I did get the room I wanted, but it was obvious that the temperature in the room suddenly fell several degrees fahrenheit when an outsider dared to address the local people in their own native language (and didn't immediately switch to English and beg for pardon). But that's the only case I can report from the States, and I have never experienced any ill feelings speaking Spanish (or Portuguese or Dutch) anywhere else in the Americas, nor in Spain, so the reason must be that that at least some Latinos in USA feel that they are a beleagered minority - or maybe that the guys at the motel didn't have their papers in order and suspected that I would cause trouble for them. Nobody knows ...
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Re: Negative Experiences in Language Learning

Postby Cavesa » Mon Jan 18, 2021 3:07 pm

garyb wrote:I appreciate the praise although it does feel a bit like words are being put in my mouth and I absolutely wasn't attacking these internet polyglots based on their race or gender or anything like that and don't condone these kinds of comments, at least without clarification on why all these traits must make their experience different and easier.


Sorry, I really apologise, this is my mistake, I should have distinguished the two parts much better! I should have put it much more clearly in separate paragraphs and made a clear difference between my reference to you and my own thought!

I'm pretty much all of these adjectives and, as is well-documented in my log, I've certainly not had the roses and sparkles experience, so I feel it's more the case that either these people are being selective and only showing the good parts (especially if it helps them sell their image) or they have the kind of delusional self-confidence that makes people react better and makes them ignore and barely even notice bad reactions. Probably easier to have that kind of confidence if you're in a "favoured" group, but it's not automatic. I do however appreciate that some of these aspects give me advantages: I have the funds and health to travel, and being a non-white Italian learner doesn't sound much fun. I remember Jhumpa Lahiri's accounts of going into shops in Italy and I consider myself lucky that I might be taken seriously at least until I open my mouth, rather than as soon as I walk in and they see me!


The delusional self-confidence is surely a part of it, and some people might even consider it a social skill or assertiveness (I'd be more in favour of terms like narcisism in some cases :-D ). But the privileges are real whether or not you are confident. We all have negative experiences. But some kinds of them are more likely to happen to people ticking some boxes.

As a young woman, I experienced various times people addressing my monolingual father and doing their best to be badly understood (like switching to very slow broken English, using much more gesticulation etc.), instead of simply profiting of my high level skills in the language. Even when it was absolutely clear from the situation, that I was speaking for the group. Some of the experiences with "what words can you say" felt like mansplaining, but I cannot be sure whether it was really that, it seems to be happening not only to us (any guy with first hand experience can weigh in, please?).

Thanks for the tip, I'll look up Jhumpa Lahiri online, sounds like experience worth reading. Especially as I have very limited experience with Italy, I've had more opportunity to observe people in France and Spain reacting to various learners.

When it comes to race and ethnicity, it is indeed a big issue. I don't dare to generalise and talk too much about the experience of people I don't personally know. (But I'd be extremely interested if other members added theirs!). A friend of mine had such a problem in Japan (she was living there for a year and spoke Japanese well enough for the usual situations), and clearly felt that she was switched on to English and in general not too respected because she was white AND a woman. But that's a particular example, usually it's us who get an advantage. A colleague from Reunion was facing various prejudices in continental France, one of them was a very unpleasant disbelief concerning her foreign language education "but how could you have learnt German? You're from Reunion. You can't be telling the truth!". In general, our experience with prejudices was weirdly similar (including our favourite strategies of "conversation combat", to add a positive note :-). ), just I was an immigrant (a second rate white from "the East"), while she was a native French citizen of colour, born in the DOMTOMs.


I also appreciated CarlyD's post. Maybe it's just my perception but there does seem to be a stereotype in the language learning community that Spanish native speakers are particularly friendly and helpful towards learners of their language, but I've certainly seen occasions similar to the ones described there and by Cavesa, towards other people as well as me. I remember one time when I was at a gathering where there was a woman who had lived in Madrid and spoke (as far as I could tell) near-perfect Spanish, and a couple of Spanish guys were responding to her in English and doing the "what things do you know how to say?" routine. I've had plenty good and plenty bad experiences with speakers of all my languages. They just tend to be of a slightly different type, for example Italians are usually quite surprised to hear a foreigner speak their language while French and Spanish are used to hearing it being butchered so these influence their respective reactions.


Yes, you're absolutely right!

I'd say it is a a stereotype tied to the "Spanish is an easy language" and also drawing from a generally rather warm culture. This tends to give us too high expectations sometimes.

I wonder, whether there is a significant difference between the Spanish natives in the US and LA, and those in Spain. I think there might be, because their experience (with how is their language treated) is significantly different. Both have their native language butchered by tons of not serious learners (but this pressure is probably stronger in the US, where Spanish is the main foreign language taught, while in Europe it is still more or less on par with French and German, competing for the second place behind English). But the Spaniards don't see their language attacked as something inferior in the other EU countries. And these days, Spain is part of the respected countries on the continent (they passed us the baton), and their emigrants/expats are treated well all over the EU. On the other side of the Pond, it is a bit different. The Spanish natives in the US still face oppression, and the Spanish speaking countries on the continent are perceived as inferior.

I am just assuming stuff based on what I've heard and read (so take it with a grain of salt and correct me, if you know more, please), but it seems like the Spaniards are less "protective" and less likely to react negatively. They don't need to. While some of the reactions from the US look much more defensive and forceful.

So, what is the outcome for us? Perhaps not to expect a too warm welcome and try to use our skills to maximum, while using as much empathy as possible? And also we should learn Spanish very well, to help break the "they're just butchering it" stereotype. Or perhaps something else, every learner needs to choose.

The "what words do you know" situation, as Garyb describes it, also sounds a bit like a bad (and humiliating) attempt to drag. As it is described, the guys found an easy way to "impress", to show themselves as an authority, as teachers. Which is strangely similar to what I've witnessed (my most vividly remembered example included a native male speaker, and non native females).
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Re: Negative Experiences in Language Learning

Postby tungemål » Mon Jan 18, 2021 3:58 pm

Hi, I found this story interesting, and as a Scandinavian I feel the need to "defend" the employee. It might be that you misinterpreted the remark by that person?

It's odd that a Scandinavian book fair wouldn't bring originals, only translations. But I can't imagine the reason would be that they view the Czechs as poor. Rather I think we Scandinavians don't expect anyone to speak our languages, so translations were probably seen as a natural way of presenting Scandinavian authors.

I remember one time I visited Poland, and the young hostel receptionist spoke Norwegian with me! That really impressed me. She hadn't even been to Norway as far as I remember, but had just learnt Norwegian by herself.

Cavesa wrote:...
A visit to a huge book fair in Prague was the last straw. That year, the scandinavian countries were the main guest, and this fact was on every poster and every online ad. I was still a student, but I took approximately 100 euro (in czech crowns of course. I don't smoke, I don't drink much, I buy books) and hoped to buy two or three books in Swedish. It was an estimate based on my research of book prices on various foreign eshops. I had already gathered the rest of my learning resources, I was one or two lessons into a coursebook. All I wanted were a few tempting fiction books to put on my shelf, to motivate me. I came to the damn book fair, where you could also buy books in several foreign languages every year (even if their countries are not the main guest. foreign books are available.). And the soo hyped scandinavian section was full of translations! When I asked a seller "and where are the originals that I came here for?", I was told "oh, the books in Swedish would be too expensive for you!".

I was automatically taken for a poor fool and not only by that employee. The people running the project were automatically judging czechs as too poor to buy a book. I was literally holding a hundred euro in my hands!

2. How did you process the experience?
It was the last piece of the puzzle. The too high prices of everything, those would still be logical (the Swedes get paid much more, pay a lot of taxes, and everything costs them more). The artificial obstacles everywhere (but Sweden should be interested in promoting Swedish, as the country is very interested in attracting foreign healthcare workers and other qualified work force), such as geoblocking, people switching to English, and scarcity of local language classes for public. And also the huge industry focused on promoting the scandinavian movies and books everywhere, but only in translation! You are allowed (even encouraged) to pay, but only for a damaged product. You are not allowed an easy direct access to the culture. Even if you actually have the money, you are still not welcome.

3. What was the outcome? Were you able to continue on your TL, or did you choose to move on?
I gave up on Swedish. It lost its charm. They are not interested in sharing their culture without filters. And I am not interested in moving to Sweden for any amount of money (too cold, and I wouldn't be a good fit in their society I think. I am a better fit for the western or southern european countries.)
...
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Re: Negative Experiences in Language Learning

Postby Xenops » Mon Jan 18, 2021 4:59 pm

Cavesa wrote:When it comes to race and ethnicity, it is indeed a big issue. I don't dare to generalise and talk too much about the experience of people I don't personally know. (But I'd be extremely interested if other members added theirs!). A friend of mine had such a problem in Japan (she was living there for a year and spoke Japanese well enough for the usual situations), and clearly felt that she was switched on to English and in general not too respected because she was white AND a woman. But that's a particular example, usually it's us who get an advantage.


Interesting, I'm a white woman, and I didn't experience this code-switching when I visited Japan in 2019. Rather, as soon as I spoke some Japanese, the other person would look relieved and would speak in full-blast Japanese--not that I understand most of what they said. ;) A few times the Japanese person would just seem pleasantly surprised that I could say anything, and they would try to continue the conversation.

Though remembering the old code-switching thread (I can't find it on the search), it could be very dependent on the language learner and their skill. Perhaps how the learner presents themselves determines how the native will respond--either with code-switching or speaking in the target language.


I wonder, whether there is a significant difference between the Spanish natives in the US and LA, and those in Spain. I think there might be, because their experience (with how is their language treated) is significantly different. Both have their native language butchered by tons of not serious learners (but this pressure is probably stronger in the US, where Spanish is the main foreign language taught, while in Europe it is still more or less on par with French and German, competing for the second place behind English). But the Spaniards don't see their language attacked as something inferior in the other EU countries. And these days, Spain is part of the respected countries on the continent (they passed us the baton), and their emigrants/expats are treated well all over the EU. On the other side of the Pond, it is a bit different. The Spanish natives in the US still face oppression, and the Spanish speaking countries on the continent are perceived as inferior.


Emphasis mine--I do think we see this in the U.S. I'm not proud of this prejudice, but we do perceive English, French and German as "prestige" languages, but not Spanish. I'd say we don't even have the romantic notions about Spain as we do of other European countries. Actually, it might be fair to say that this is also the case with Portuguese, but maybe to a lesser extent.

As far as Canadians are concerned, my impression is that they don't have the warm feelings towards French like the Americans do. ;) They are encouraged to study French because of Quebec, so they are less enthused.
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