Languages Are Beautiful

I have worked with newcomers to Canada for about 4 years now. There are so many positives when it comes to working with immigrants and refugees that I don’t want to undermine them by focusing on a negative, but this blog is about ranting, and ranting I shall do.

The biggest negative about working with newcomers is the blatant racism that smacks you in the face on a daily basis from society. I have facebook and twitter (yes, both, and I’m not ashamed. Those people who “don’t really like facebook or twitter” annoy the shit out of me. Get real, social media is the wave of the future *cue Simpsons quote*. I can stay perfectly connected to realism and minimalism while staying connected) where I see status’, comments, and pictures posted daily that are clearly racist and discriminative. It blows my mind.

Last week I took part in a focus group with a sector of our provincial government. The aim was to create a website to better aid newcomers with employment. To me, this is a really big step for our government. They are realizing that there is a gap and attempting to close it. However, I couldn’t help but notice how incredibly behind our province is in its services, acceptance, recognition, and realization that immigration is big in Canada.

Here’s a link to some (somewhat dated) information on immigration in Canada. Note in the first paragraph it estimates that by 2011, 100% of the net labour force will be solely reliant on immigration.

Any statistical website will reiterate this information. Bottom line, immigration numbers will continue to grow in Canada, so it’s time you get off your ‘white power’ high horse and come to your sense that as much as you don’t like change, you have no control over it.

I’ve noticed a lot of people complaining about the lack of comprehension they have for ESL (English as a Second Language) speakers. I’ve heard the phrase “why don’t they get people who can speak english” or “I can’t understand them at all!” more than thrice. Let me educate you. There’s this thing called the Canadian Language Benchmark or CLB. This is a gradient that an assessment made by a professional assessor will place you on. It ranges from 0 (pre-literacy) to 10+. Someone with a 3, for instance, will be able to piece together a sentence, will need you to speak slowly and clearly (but not LOUDLY) to them, and will have a general understanding of the English language. A 6 will be able to carry on a conversation with you but may mix up words and pluralism. An 8 will be able to speak with general ease.

Now here’s where you come in. Be patient. For fuck sakes people, give them a break. Practice a bit of empathy. Remember that you were born here, you have no previous language to influence the ways in which you speak a new one. I can speak a bit of Spanish. When I say it to you, it may sound right – even sexy (doubtful) – but guaranteed to a Spanish-speaking person, I sound like an illiterate alien.

Languages are absolutely beautiful. I’ve heard some that are so sweet sounding that I just close my eyes and listen. Others are so harsh that you’re not sure if you should mind your own business or jump in between before someone gets pummeled. But that’s the beauty of language. They are all so unique, and distinct. It’s what makes human beings beautiful in a world of terrible human beings. When you learn a second language, the ways in which you speak your first will come through – thus the birth of the accent. For instance, vowels. Those beauties. In English it’s A (eh) E (eeeee) I (eye) O (oh) U (you). Simple right? Now in many other languages (and I mean many) the vowels are A (ah) E (eh) I (ee) O (oh) U (oo). Try and sound out your own name using the vowel sounds that so many other languages use. Imagine trying to get used to using them in a different way? Our letters may look the same, but they certainly don’t sound the same.

Bottom line : languages are difficult to learn.

So give those who are trying to some credit. Remember how ridiculous you must have sounded when you went to Mexico that one time and said, “doze serve-aces pore favour”. Did anyone get angry with you? Roll their eyes? Complain to their friends about how stupid you are? Probably not. We as Canadians need to start practicing our manners.

A key point you must remember, as I too have fallen guilty to this assumption : someone’s ability to grasp a foreign language does NOT dictate their intelligence.

When a cashier as Sobeys asks you for the “closed sign” for their till and you interpret what they have said as them asking you for lotion (this happened in front of me 2 days ago) does not make them stupid, or you stupid, it’s a simple misunderstanding that is completely normal. But you should be trying to understand. As should everyone. Far too often though, the ESL speaker is generally passed off as being stupid because they “can’t even speak English”. I am so so so so sick of this mentality. When you say these things, YOU sound stupid. Many newcomers to Canada come to this country with a wealth of intelligence. They could be doctors, nurses, teachers, social workers, accountants, they may have worked as an executive HR person for the biggest oil manufacturing company in the world, but if you pass them off as being dumb because of their English speaking abilities, well then I feel bad for you. You likely just missed out on an opportunity to meet an extremely interesting and wonderful person.

Lesson of the day : smile, love, be patient, stop passing judgements, and try to learn a new language. Good luck.



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