Speaking and learning a foreign language can be a hard task. Of course, the learner and his/her interlocutors have to be patient. Clearly, there are loads of difficulties and the process can be very stressful for a person. I have experienced this and I can share my own ideas. First, I believed it was a great torture and knew I had to ‘polish’ my language to be as good as native speaker. I was too concerned with mastering the language and I missed out on more important things. After reading Amy Tan’s and Rolando Niella’s works, I learnt a lot about people like me and the way these experiences can be less painful and more valuable for both the learner and his/her interlocutor.
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In the first place, I have to stress that speaking with people in a foreign language is often a difficult thing especially at the first stage of learning. Though, I did not have such problems as Niella, I also had numerous cases of misunderstanding. Moreover, I also had problems with personal styles, accents and speakers’ pace. Interestingly, I have visited one restaurant and I loved talking to a waitress. She had a curious accent. First, it was tough to communicate with her but then I started understanding her better. Now I am even looking for people with high pace or specific accent to practice my English. Furthermore, I realized I have paid significant attention to the way I speak. Just like Niella and Tan, I focused on the choice of words or tenses, my grammar or intonation instead of simply trying to speak and share ideas.
Nevertheless, speaking correct English does not mean being able to express ideas well and sometimes it is important to let go and simply speak without focusing on possible mistakes. Of course, if I made too many mistakes, it would make communication impossible. However, I also noticed that a wrong word and tense usually do not change the meaning. Tan stresses that some of her teachers were too strict. I found it easier and less frustrating to communicate with people if I do not focus on my mistakes. When I stopped paying much attention to them while speaking, my fluency improved and my interlocutors understood me almost all the time. I guess Niella’s English was extremely poor if people stopped talking to him. I also believe those people were in a hurry or in a bad mood. In my life, I had only a few experiences like that. For instance, I was trying to explain what gadgets are popular in China and I realized that my interlocutors could not understand a half of what I was saying. Nonetheless, in the majority of cases, my friends simply create jokes on the basis of my mistakes. These jokes are not offensive but nice and quite funny.
Most importantly, I learnt from Amy Tan’s writing that the way we speak a foreign language mirrors the way we see the new culture. Our own culture is also seen through mistakes we make. Tan’s mother is an example of the combination of two great cultures. I also noticed I sometimes use structures which are characteristic for my mother tongue. I have realized that my friends pay attention to this and often ask me about my homeland and my culture. Of course, sometimes it is simply difficult to choose the right word as it does not exist in English. For example, I was talking about spiritual part of pour life with one of my friends and I think I made lots of mistakes as I was using some Chinese structures and words, but my friend said he started understanding why I was using some words and structures. Obviously, people around Niella did not understand that. They were rather closed to another culture.
Of course, I do not mean to state that there is no need in learning grammar rules and vocabulary. It is clear that a person has to know a language well to communicate with other people speaking this language. I understand that I should follow all rules and speak correctly.
However, I also think that people should be more patient and supportive when they communicate with a foreigner. Tan and Niella as well as many other people learning a foreign language would escape numerous negative experiences if their interlocutors were a bit more patient. As for me, I always try to be very supportive when some of my friends are trying to practice their Chinese and I see that they appreciate it. I am ready to build a bridge for two cultures to unite different people.
In conclusion, it is possible to state that I know how to avoid a variety of unpleasant situations and make people more tolerant and open-minded. At present, I am not focused on my mistakes and can freely speak English with my friends and/or strangers. Moreover, I understand that some of my mistakes are valuable insights into my culture. I am ready to share pearls of the Chinese culture with my friends though I keep learning and trying to master the language. Of course, my learning has become pleasant and enjoyable.