Stigma of the Language Learning Community
As a person who is interested in different cultures and languages, I love learning about the diversities of the world. Though, it has been a bit hard to follow that small passion as I have been called “weird” because I happen to like certain things within different cultures. Not only that, I’m called weird because I’m learning a language (French) that is considered useless where I live. I originally thought that this was just something that I had to endure because of the people around me, but then I slowly realized that this happens a lot with people, typically Americans, who want to learn a different language. It has come to my attention that for many people who want to learn a second or more language, they are ridiculed because apparently, they are denouncing the culture they were born in.
This is commonly seen in foreigners who want to learn Japanese or Korean, and there are particular terms that are used. I think some are familiar with “Weeaboo” and “Koreaboo”. Now, the actual definition of Weeaboo is a non-Japanese person who is obsessed with Japanese culture, so much that they call themselves Japanese and claim the culture superior to others. Koreaboo is basically the same thing, but switch Japanese for Korean. Though, these terms are beginning to be broadly used for foreigners who want to learn Japanese or Korean, or if they already know some of the language, speak it as a non-native. I suppose it has something to do with their intentions, as some people find it stupid that a person would want to learn Japanese just because of anime or learn Korean just because of K-pop. Instead, I find that pretty cool. Isn’t it amazing how someone is inspired to learn an entire language because of a small aspect of the culture? I mean, I love J-pop and K-pop, but some people in my family think it’s odd. It’s not that those genres are different from what they’re used to, it’s the fact that it’s from different countries, different cultures. Even more, the music is of a language I hardly understand, so ‘why should I listen to it?’ And when I try to learn the language, people think I’m trying to ignore my own American culture, which is not true. You can learn different languages without disrespecting your own, as well have any reasoning towards wanting to learn a language. I love the French language and its culture, and I’m proficient in French. Although, according to some people, I’m implicitly denouncing my own culture. Well, guess I’m a Frenchaboo XD.
This is especially hard for polyglots (or aspiring ones), I imagine, because they are learning all of these languages and cultures and some people may ask, “Do you even care about your native tongue?” Learning languages is such a wonderful experience and it has nothing to do with giving up one’s culture or native tongue. Exploring the diversity in the world can sometimes be frightening because a language or culture can be so, so different from your own, but I just find beauty in that.
Sorry if this really diverges from normal Duolingo discussions, but this was something that I kept thinking about for awhile and I was wondering if anyone else has experienced harsh treatment for trying to learn a different language. It may not be such of a deal that I’m making it out to be, though, you never know. ^ ^
In my experience in both the US and Mexico, knowing another language is the quickest way to be considered a genius by those around you. Start speaking comfortably with someone in another language and suddenly you gain status, not lose it. I find Americans especially impressed because there is such little opportunity to learn and use another language unless you live on the southern border.
I'm from southern California.
I have one friend who is a native Spanish and English speaker who is from Mexico but grew up in the US. I have to be very careful around him. If I use certain Mexican slang around him he won't find it funny. He doesn't speak Spanish to me. Despite my excitement to learn his language, he doesn't meet me halfway. I do and don't understand it. It may be that he wants his culture to be intensely respected. Despite my ability to speak the language, I think it's fair to assume any of my joking is construed as insensitive and perhaps racist. (I ask for your trust, any joking is subtle and not offensive. It's a word here, or a word there.) Ultimately, it's just more fluid for me to not even mention anything about Latin culture or Spanish around him.
I have noticed that some of my Mexican friends who I meet in predominantly caucasian settings are hesitant to speak Spanish and openly celebrate their culture with me. I have to coax them into speaking Spanish with me. That could be appropriate social awareness. Maybe it creates an elephant in the room setting.
I could be wrong, but I think there is a certain pressure that Mexican or Latino friends of mine feel; they need to 'fit in' to society. So, if they're around caucasians who only speak English, they speak English.
My parents were bilingual educators; they have often commented that maybe 20 years ago there was a push for Mexican families to basically deny their Mexican heritage in order to be fully accepted as Americans. Thus, many of their children never learned Spanish or don't openly use it. (Not sure all the details on that one, but it is something I've heard.)
I have been asked by certain Mexican monolinguals to work with them more often, presumably because I'm bilingual. I think they like that I speak Spanish. It's good PR. I have another friend who is Mexican/American and bilingual. He hates anything near Spanglish. For him, pick Spanish or English. Interestingly, he has no shame to speak Spanish whenever and wherever.
I have observed that it is absolutely 'fascinating' to my caucasian monolingual friends that I could learn something so 'complex' as another language. I admit, there are times when I flaunt it.
There are people who love it and hate it. There are those who think it's unAmerican to speak anything but English, and there are those who think it's absolutely American to speak more than one language. But I digress.
Those are really interesting things you brought up. I thought the criticism with me had to do with envy from others, but it could just be the way one perceives what being an American really means. America consists of many races and many cultures, so it would only make sense that multilingualism would be prevalent. On the other hand, English is such a widely spoken language in the country and in the world that it would seem puzzling for one to become bilingual. As others have brought up, it may also have to do with how one perceives the importance of learning different languages. For example, I'm learning French but I have no practical usage for it. I plan on writing French literature in the future, but that's it. People may look at me and say that I'm wasting my time, which I can understand on their part, even though I don't feel as if I'm wasting my time. Another example is Klingon. When will a person ever use Klingon in their lives, besides probably writing fanfiction? I'm sure there are indeed practical uses for the language, but it's a bit harder to find with a fictional language. So, in the end I agree with you, and I believe how much one values learning languages influences the way they perceive the activity. Thanks for your insight!
Is this because in the northern American border there is Canada, and canadian is rather similar to American so the people can become less in touch with other languages?
Canadian English is quite similar to American English. Canadian French is not particularly similar to American English, however.
Yes, quite often i get called weird for wanting to become fluent in Vietnamese, and i am told that Vietnamese is a useless language spoken by (insert racially discriminating insult here).
It's something i don't really tell others, because of this. (I live in a pretty racist/white supremacist small town). I often get the 'Do you hate america?' Question by my stepdad, who is arguably the one who hates that i'm learning Vietnamese the most.
'Why don't you do something normal 16 year olds do?'
'When is this ever going to help you?'
'Do you actually believe that you're going to go to Vietnam?' 'There are (insert racially discriminating insult here) all over there!'
' ------- (insert racially discriminating insult here) lover!'
Vietnamese is difficult to learn. I appreciate anyone who makes it their goal to learn Vietnamese :)
Vietnam also seem interesting.
It's horrible when your own family is reluctant to support your goals. Regardless on how some members of my family feel, I still love and respect their opinions. I even asked if I could go to Paris for this summer since I was heading off to college and they just sort of gave me a peculiar look like I was insane... Like I was a Frenchaboo! Well, I ended up not going, which I'm content with. All jokes aside, I'm sorry you're going through something similar. It's not easy, but we should pursue our goals and be with those who will support us. In the end, it's our choice, not others. ^ ^
FWIW, I think that you learning Vietnamese is amazing. Vietnam is a beautiful country, Vietnamese is an interesting language, and Vietnamese food is one of the world's great cuisines. I am confident that one day you will travel to Vietnam and be able to experience it for yourself.
Some areas and some cultural contexts are more intellectual than others - and conversely, some are more anti-intellectual.
You're about to start college, yes? College campuses, in general, tend to be more intellectual environments than high schools. If you are going away to a college in a larger town (or even just a university town), that may also make a big difference. You are likely to find more people in those contexts who value language learning for its own sake (as well as more people who can imagine practical, real-world uses for a foreign language).
You will also find, as you move into adulthood, that you'll have a lot more choice about who you can spend your time with than you did in high school. It will be easier to seek out people with similar interests and to spend less time with people who look down on your interests.
You raise some good points, MasterZsword, and I appreciate the sentiments. My own Irish learning has been kind of a standing joke at my workplace for many months now, but it is friendly humor. As I continue my quest I've noticed some of the initially skeptical people are starting to ask questions and a couple of them have taken interest. For instance one in particular wants to learn Hindi as a pathway to make it easier to advance in his yoga, another is interested in learning Spanish as a doorway to earning money as an interpreter.
One of the skeptics, a close friend, used to laugh at me a lot, but then I laugh right back and teach her a phrase. Humor itself helps though one has to be careful to not be cruel, always laugh with people and not at them.
As time goes on, a person gets get older and less sensitive as to what the 'average' people say. The dullards don't have the imagination to see that some things are worth doing for their own sake even if we can't find an immediate purpose for them. For you I'm confident you will also learn in time that the languages open up many opportunities. Romance? Travel? Vocation? Business? Literature? Enlightenment?
I see in some of your replies to others there is more discussion about French. In the US there is a place where you can't really fit in without knowing some of it, and that is rural Louisiana and parts of Mississippi and Texas. Rather than hiding their ethnicity like so many Spanish speakers, there is a lot of pride in the language and many people are happy to teach it to anyone willing to practice and learn.
I was born, raised and spent the first 25 years of my life in Mississippi. This is the first time I ever heard tell of a place in Mississippi where you need to speak some French to fit in. My stomping grounds is the northwest part of the state on a rice and catfish farm in the Mississippi Delta. I'm hard pressed to believe there's any French presence in Mississippi. A lot of us from down there can't even get English right. :-)
Whereabouts are you referring to? A wild guess is that it must be somewhere down in the southwest part of the state in the general direction of Cajun country in Lousiana.
Down on the coast and the parts near Louisiana such as the lowland near Picayune started as French. You will meet people up and down the coast all the way in to Alabama and Florida. Particularly if you are working on the water or out in the country. Older people especially have more French, and family get togethers. People won't push French on you, but you'd be surprised how many people like to speak it. Mostly in Louisiana but you'd be surprised. Southeast Texas, same story.
Since I just mentioned Alabama, there are a lot of people on the coast, the town of Bayou La Batre comes to mind, who speak Vietnamese as a primary language, French secondary and enough English to get by. Again, this is more of the older folk, younger ones trending to English.
Oh yes, one other thing, if you stop for lunch at a convenience store on the coast or Louisiana side of south Mississippi, make sure you know the difference between boudin rouge, boudin noir and boudin blanc. ;^)
South Louisiana and the Mississippi coast both have Vietnamese communities. I don't know much about it, but I have heard this is due to immigrants, a generation or so ago, wanting to settle where they could make a living fishing.
my girlfriend thought it was weird that i listen to a Polish folk song. she'd say "you dont even understand any of it!"
I somethimes also like listing to Swiss yodeling, although I don't understand the language at all.
And when I try to learn the language, people think I’m trying to ignore my own American culture, which is not true. You can learn different languages without disrespecting your own ... according to some people, I’m implicitly denouncing my own culture.
I think what you are seeing is insecurity in the other person. A lot of times when we humans see someone else doing something we consider amazing, rather than reacting with admiration, we react by feeling threatened and afraid. This is especially true if the amazing thing is something we don't understand, or don't relate to. And our insecurity frequently causes us to lash out at the person doing the amazing thing, belittle it, and to make fun of it, call it dumb, etc. It's just human nature.
Crabs. A crab is trying to escape the bucket, all the other crabs have to pull it back down. :-/
Well said. I'm kinda a Weeaboo AND Koreaboo AND Swedeboo (yes, that is a thing) all at once and most people think my interest in the Spanish-speaking and Islamic areas is kind of weird. Either I read too much or the world is too interesting. Or both.
I dislike attitudes other Americans have about this kind of stuff. Staying monolingual isn't going to make America great. Much less prosper. Most people I've talked to who don't have half the idea of what learning is will wonder why I spend so much time on languages. The answer: Opportunity! :D
That's so true. I mean, we have the opportunity to learn different languages and about different cultures, I don't know why I can't just... You know, do it?
Swedeboo is an actual thing? Then I suppose there are Americanboos out there, too. Which wouldn't surprise me! XD
Those people who want to blanket their lack of knowledge by promoting their own language and culture as the one and only thing, they also exist in Germany. There's just one difference: (Business/technical) English is more or less considered as obligatory to be an educated human being, like all kinds of knowledge that keeps the German money machine running^^
If we look at history, language trends come and go. Today it's English, yesterday it was French, before that Latin and Greek, tomorrow it might be Chinese or Spanish, who knows. People who follow their own path have always been seen as weirdos, even in individualistic cultures like the US-american.
Claude Piron was a prominent figure in the Esperanto community and believed that most people have an irrational fear of other languages because it somehow threatens their identity.
Having just started to learn Esperanto, I'm surprised at how much hostility there is to what is after all a simple and sensible solution to the language problem.
Is there really so much hostility or is it just perceived like that in the Esperanto community?
I agree with you that it is a simple solution to the language problem. However, in my opinion there is the same problem of cultural bias with Esperanto as with any other language. The Esperanto community has developed its own culture (i.e. common beliefs and behaviors) that some find attractive and others don't.
EO is very interesting as a language, but suffers from the same problem as for example the competitors of WhatsApp do: The more users a communication medium has, the more attractive it gets for new users, and the more attractive it gets, the more users it has. There is a vivious circle to be broken.
Maybe "hostility" was too strong a word to use; mild contempt and indifference might be better. The comments and criticisms I've seen seem to stem from failing to grasp the point of EO. It was never intended to be a REPLACEMENT for national languages but a (universal) AUXILIARY language - a language "bridge" which is a helluva lot easier to learn than any national language.
As to the culture, it does have a distinctly leftist flavour to it which I don't find particularly appealing, but for me its redeeming features more than make up this. And I don't see how any such an enterprise could NOT have a cultural bias. If it wasn't biased in one respect it would be in another, so there would always be some who would find the culture attractive and others who wouldn't.
Not sure I understand your point about the vicious circle; what you've described seems more like a virtuous circle...
Changing the subject, I'm surprised that most duolingo users are studying multiple languages; don't you get confused?
Yeah I expressed myself a little confusing^^ What I meant is that EO never had a momentum like I described it.
And regarding multiple languages: I can only speak for myself, I don't get confused because I only learn one language at a time. But in a way you're right; today for example, I had a conversation in Spanish with someone from Honduras (via the app Speaky, I really recommend it in case you want to apply the stuff learned here on Duolingo in a language exchange) and I used the word útil, which has an accent on the first syllable, but I mispronounced it because before Spanish I learned French, where the accent is on the last syllable.
In general however it gets easier with each new language.
Well, what you are doing is actually not weird and not so unnusual. You talk about people from your neighbourhood. Maybe they are different there than most places.
Yes, that's true. I've seen this occur more than where I live, which is why it got me thinking. But, I'm sure not everyone is like the way I described. ^ ^
When I've told people that I'm learning different languages most of them don't seem interested or wonder why I bother? Why don't I spend my free time doing something more valuable like watching tv or a movie, or play a video game? I guess the reason is that I haven't got particularly good at any language and so it's seen as a waste of time.
I think the other reason is that learning languages isn't a popular thing, and so when I tell people I spend my time learning languages, they don't engage with that as they don't know anyone who's learning languages and don't want to get interested in it. It's like any activity that is slightly anti-social and unpopular. If someone's interested in animated movies, or in reading sci-fi, or maybe working out a few decades a go - it's seen as nerdy or pointless. It won't get you anywhere in life - until of course it becomes popular like how Game of Thrones is now, or how working out is.
I wonder if Duolingo will reach that level of popularity. I know there's millions of users, but how many of them actively engage in it, in discussions and forums and reddit? Unfortunately only a tiny percentage of the total amount. Sometime I even wonder if Duolingo lies about the number of users. Nothing is stopping them? Take High Valyrian for example - it has over 80,000 users now, yet on the forums, the most upvotes a post has had is barely over 50. Strange that less than 0.1% of a course will like something.
Anyway, sorry for the essay. Hope you found it interesting. :)
I didn't mind the essay at all!
You know, it would be interesting to see Duolingo become socially popular amongst people, like widely known shows or games. It's like you say, learning languages isn't usually an activity that people purely dedicate their lives to, or just do for fun. So, I understand others' criticism on it. If language learning did become as popular as working out or Doctor Who, then that would certainly be something.
You're completely right. What others say isn't my business or my concern. Thank you!
I was wondering if anyone else has experienced harsh treatment for trying to learn a different language.
I have not; the opposite in fact; almost universally positive. Russian mostly merits mad respect. Guaraní: ok, people mostly just don't even know what it is. I am American and live in the U.S. Mostly people wish they could speak another language, too, usually Spanish.
Honestly I just want to learn languages. I love them. The first one I picked up was Japanese, because my friends where really into anime and japan and I found it interesting too. I'm still a beginner because I only know enough to get by reading the language, but have trouble making my own sentences and understanding it spoken if it's spoken quickly.
I actually put learning Japanese on hold for now for the very reason that people saw it negatively. I know enough to read a good amount, but I want to learn some other languages before I try to go further, so I'm not just that English kid that wants to learn Japanese. Thing is I like Japan and the things it creates, but I don't actually pay much attention to it outside of reading things in the art community and getting the odd novel out at my liberty.
I just find most cultures interesting. I want to learn as many languages as I can from now on, because it connects you to new thoughts and ideas.
The reason people view English speaking people this way is largely due to the fact that we don't have as many opportunities to learn language by default. We don't grow up needing to learn English because it dominates a lot of things people want to access, we don't grow up living right next too other countries that speak a different language, the people that don't speak English here will normally also speak English, and even if you show interest and can speak in their language they often still will not talk to you in that language, like they just don't think they should or something?
We have little opportunity to learn new languages and practice unless we pay money to get a teacher, and many of us can not afford that. Then because of less need to learn new languages, many people just don't even think about it. I was like that, I didn't even think about that being an option before. Then it's only really because of sites like this that I can.
Whatever a persons reason for learning a language I don't see why it's an issue. Why people make fun of it is beyond me. Honestly, even if they are someone that just learns a bit and then drops it, or learn a bit and uses a few words randomly. They still learnt something, and maybe that will lead to wanting to learn more later in life, or maybe they are just having fun. Either way they are not hurting anyone. It is certainly unfair to assume though that people that are English and learning Japanese or Korean are not taking it seriously. Even if their reason is the love for the music or anime.
I've lived in both the US and Canada, and my experience has been a bit different. Like another poster has said, I find that a native English speaker in North America learning or speaking a foreign language impresses people. In my own experience, the more exotic or difficult the language is perceived to be, the more people are impressed, i.e. a tonal Asian language or a language spoken by a small number of people (Icelandic for example). People may be curious as to why you are learning the language, but if it turns out you are doing it just for the fun of it then they will be even more impressed and think you must be super smart.
For practical every day living and working, North Americans have very little need to speak a foreign language. Canada and the USA cover vast land areas spanning forests, deserts, mountains and plains with all types of climate, so you can vacation in areas of the continent completely different from where you live. English is a major world language and the language of international business and travel, so even for travel outside North America it is common to find English spoken in places where tourists like to go.
Canada is a bit of an exception in some cases where French may be required for federal or other types of employment except in Quebec where French is the official language and practical language of daily life. The majority of Canadians outside of Quebec can go their whole lives without speaking a word of French and never be inconvenienced. For example, as a French language student my every day life will not be practically improved for everyday needs here in the city of Vancouver in Western Canada.
Maybe the reason people are impressed is for the reasons I've mentioned.
I say don't worry about what people think. Study whatever language and how many languages you want. Your life will be enriched and your mind will be opened as you learn about different cultures and different ways of thinking and expressing yourself. In my opinion, the kind of people who would criticize someone for learning a language is not the sort of person I have any interest in having any kind of relationship with. The world is too big and life is too short to waste time on people who don't support you because there are many more who will support you and make your life better.
Thank you for everything you said. I believe you're right in all of that; there's nothing much you can do with a second language like French in America, unless one wanted to speak to family members who speak French. I have a particular goal with learning French, but I guess people believe it's not worth trying to learn another language to achieve that goal. Though, I guess I really shouldn't worry about it. Everyone has their perspectives on language learning and whether my peers like it or not is not particularly my problem.
My treatment depends on the area I'm in. Sometimes I get people who are impressed but then there are other times I get negative comments. Some people think I'm a foreigner in the U.S. so I confirm it anytime I speak a language that's not English.
As a very young adult, 18 to 21, I was lucky enough to live in Paris, when my french was still pretty elementary, at a high school level. The French are notorious, at least in Paris, for wanting their language spoken properly, and would quickly cut me off and speak English. I eventually became quite fluent and could hold my own in French. Since then many, many years later when I go back on visits, they are much more appreciative and complimentary even though my skills have declined. I have always believed in learning languages and I am so surprised to hear the comments where folks are criticized. How do we communicate with the rest of the world in not in their language? And how boring is that?
Upon reading this in search of material for a research paper I am writing, I find myself wanting to ask a few questions myself. To introduce myself first, I am a white American woman aspiring to be a polyglot. Through childhood, I started picking up Spanish and in high school, I started learning French, German, Russian, and Arabic as well. While I am hardly fluent in anything other than English (maybe Spanish depending on your definition) I have found it very difficult to begin the process of speaking while learning. This concept of "I am still learning and my sentences won't always be clear" seems to turn people away from allowing you to practice with them. I have been made fun of many times and have found it very hard to practice engaging in conversation because fears of failure become difficult to overcome.
In many years of studying, listening, learning, and engaging with Spanish I would never tell someone I knew who spoke it I was fluent. I would struggle to even piece together a phrase while in any other context (whether it be in writing or with a professor in the language) I could flow conversationally with hardly any problems. Thus, making the journey to actually use Spanish in a day to day situation much more difficult. I have even noticed that if I am around a native speaker, I will purposely mispronounce words because I am afraid they think I am being pretentious.
In college, I am taking a course entitled Intro to Latin America and many of my classmates speak Spanish natively. Every time I say a country's name with the correct pronunciation I am met by eyes that roll like bowling balls as the words leave my lips. I am afraid to engage in conversation with any of them and if I am being honest, I really want to.
While this is hardly something to complain about it is something I would like to understand more or if anything find a way around the issue. How can I come across engaged and willing to learn instead of pretentious and culturally ignorant? What can I do or we do as a language community in order to break the bounds of language pressure? Learning a language should be about opening your horizons and connecting with new people not about judging people on their inability to phrase everything perfectly. This goes for native English speakers as well. Cut people some slack, no one speaks their native tongue perfectly. I, a native English speaker, probably typed something incorrectly here or phrased something in a way that is grammatically incorrect (at least twice).
All of this ranting aside, I love learning languages and I genuinely feel that if it became a social norm (in the States specifically) to be bilingual at least, the stigma would be a thing of the past.
Learning and sharing with another language and culture should NEVER be misconstrued as wrongful! It is not theft to show interest and make attempts; as long as you're not cocky about it, it should be understood by others that, with the depth and nuance inherent in any language, it is a long task ahead to truly master any new tongue, and the mechanics of it are only part of the package. To me, it is a sign of respect (to others) that I have invested my time trying to learn, and not spend it rotting my brain playing video games or watching TV.
This is not "exoticism" – a term that casts "otherness" as "alien" and strange and unknowable... ANYTHING outside one's usual sphere of knowledge will at first seem foreign... and, honestly, I don't feel that word should be used pejoratively. Regardless of which culture and language is being learned about, one will quickly find commonalities and parallels to one's own familiar world.
I recently moved to a community that is largely Portuguese-speaking; I try to gauge the situation/mood as well as people around me, on whether I try to speak the language as an amateur. Well before I moved here, locals would often start speaking to me in their language, assuming I was simply light-skinned from Portugal, so I don't think it's too far fetched to try out the language now that I have taken an avid interest in it, for day-to-day interactions in what is now my own neighborhood!
Responses range from replying to me in English (of course), to a flurry of Portuguese, and sometimes even Spanish. It should be noted that there are a number of languages spoken here, probably Brazilian Portuguese first, then European Portuguese, then Spanish, then English.
Probably my FAVORITE is there is a woman at a local restaurant who is fascinated that I am learning Portuguese — she always tries out "new" (to me) phrases to test me and teach... and, as a matter of fact, she used to teach English, back in Brazil! haha...
SO. There are polyglots in every language. Invest in other languages and cultures without fear, fear of being scorned or ridiculed, fear of somehow bringing white male imperialist tendencies. Be mindful, but not afraid.
"You can't take it with you" as they say; all the time spent doing this will disappear into the ether once we pass on, but the goodwill and exchange of values that we can accomplish while we are alive is the reward in and of itself.