As I’ve mentioned previously, I am giving myself the challenge of being able to have a proper conversation in German before the summer. In order to boost myself in this, I go to German Facebook meetup every week. Forcing myself to speak German with these people (or, more often than not, forcing people to suffer my German) helps me get the chance to use the language I learn whilst studying. I am ridiculously bad at German. I can barely string a sentence together. But it helps.
However, there is one guy there who is not German. He’s a very nice guy, very welcoming and friendly. But he stands in the way of my German learning, and here is why. When you are pretty good at a language, and you meet someone else also studying that language, then you feel the need to take them under your wing. When I speak with him he’ll use a range of expressions to try to stretch my learning experience. At my level, this isn’t really helpful. With a native speaker, their aim would not be to nurture you, but to have a conversation with you and to be understood by you. Helpful Non-Native’s aim is to show you just how much they know, and try to pave the path of your linguistic learning. But all it ends up doing (to me, at least) is frustrate me as it’s not natural, it’s not helping me and it’s a little off-putting since they are showing off so much I feel lost in my own abysmal level.
If you are a learner who is pretty good at the language, Helpful Non-Native turns into Competitive Non-Native. I find this happens A LOT with Japanese. When you meet someone new in Japan, people like to size you up and see where you are on the scale, to see if you are better or worse than them at Japanese. When I was at uni, I was ridiculously competitive, to the point that I turned into a not very nice person. But once I got into JET, I chilled out a bit. But I noticed the competitive streak in other people I met… they’d mention some Japanese just to test out how much I knew, or even worse, just come out and speak Japanese to me straight off. I don’t know about other languages but it is a real faux pas to speak in Japanese to non-Japanese people unless there is a good reason, ie it’s at a language event or if there’s a Japanese person who can’t speak English there.
So for someone who is learning a language, having someone who is trying to push you along, show how much they know, someone who is trying to show their superiority is not going to be helpful in your quest to learn a language – whether they mean it or not. A native speaker has no hidden agenda, and won’t throw you linguistic blue shells to try and trip you up, either. You’re not distracted by their level because they’re a native speaker and you’re not aiming to be like them any time soon, either.
Does anyone else feel this too? In other languages is there a competitive feeling when meeting a new person?
This is a “write thoughts down” kind of blog post so let’s see if we can get some kind of discussion going!