Listening to Maggie, Demet and Roland's current Au Pair, explain in English what the plan is for the day, I find myself trying to think about what she sounds like in German. This happens a lot of times with my friends and acquaintances who sport a foreign accent and who do not speak fluent English. Language is the tool we use to think, to explain, to commune, and to gauge our opinions about people. When I hear someone speaking English whose mother tongue is German, or any other language, it is easy to assume they are not very capable or educated. Or smart.
The truth is of course that they are probably smarter than me because they can actually speak to me in another language besides their mother tongue. It's that I am prejudiced. Grammar was not my best subject in school, I couldn't explain to you all the tenses and gerunds and blah blah blah in English because I don't know them. But, I can edit your research paper and give you back your piece with hardly any mistakes. So, when someone writes me on Facebook or speaks to me on the street and their grammar is crap, I notice. And I immediately think less of them. Because I figure if you cannot speak or write well, you're not worth much of my time. Now, granted, I am not a huge stickler. No, it's the obvious grammar and sentence structure mistakes that kill me. Yeah, I am a bit of a perfectionist, so, it rubs off on how I view and assess the people around me.
The part of me that I am trying to change is my judgment of my foreign friends. When you hear a foreign accent, do you not tend to speak down to them in some ways? I know I can. And I hate it. Because, for all I know, they have impeccable grammar in their mother tongue and are eloquent in their speech. But all I hear is my language spoken incorrectly. I want to be able to hear someone speaking to me in a foreign accent, with grammatical mistakes strewn throughout the sentences, and look beyond the mistakes and see the person. Which includes their accent, which comes from their mother tongue, a vital part of their beliefs and upbringing and worldview. Something so precious as language should not push me away from a person, it should bring me closer to them. Thus, I recognize my prejudices and am working every day to change my thoughts and my hearing. Because I love languages, and other cultures, and even foreign accents. I do not want a foreign accent to hinder my ability to discover and learn more about a person. I also do not want it to hinder my ability to see them as an equal. Because they are, and by being prejudiced against their accent and ability/inability to speak English, I show that in all actuality, they are probably better, more capable, more educated, and smarter than I.
Perhaps I will add this to my New Year's resolutions. Yes.