Beth at Cassandra Pages has posted an entry that does an excellent job of recounting the kinds of interactions that can defeat us when we’re trying to operate in a second language, and the way it makes us feel:
“It doesn’t matter how long I live here or how hard I try,” I said to myself, miserably, “I’ll never master this language completely, and I will never, ever fit in….”
As I thought about it more, I decided that it wasn’t so much an inability to make myself understood – for I’m pretty good at that, using language or not – as it was not being able to understand others, and how humiliated I feel when they instantly switch to English, or turn their backs – whether the gesture is real or only felt. The switching, I’ve found, is often Canadian politeness, and most people will continue in French if you tell them you’re trying to learn and improve. I recognized that discomfiture was also coming from a bruised ego. I am not only a word person, and someone who wants to communicate and know other people, but I’m an over-achiever, and I can’t stand feeling stupid or unaccomplished, especially in this sphere.
I know exactly how she feels, and there’s a certain relief mixed in with my chagrin that I’m no longer living in a city where I always had the opportunity to actually practice my languages. It’s so much easier just to read them.
Addendum. Compare La Coquette‘s adventures in French, courtesy of Tatyana in the comments below.