Because I have trouble separating my work and my personal life, I've been watching Channel 4's 'Why Don't You Speak English' tonight. It's all about immigrants who've been in the UK a while (1-2 years) but have only picked up very basic English. They focus on 4 immigrants and place each of them with a household somewhere in the UK, which the aim of improving their spoken English. CHAOS RESULTS.
Well, not too much chaos. I hope that the result of the programme will be positive, as I think there's very little awareness in the UK about how hard it is to learn a new language, especially if you've been distracted by things like fleeing your civil war-torn homeland. I was lucky enough to be born with all sorts of advantages that facilitated my learning of different languages, and yet it still took me the best part of a decade to call myself 'fluent' in German, my second foreign language, and even now, I'm still noticeably foreign when I speak it.
One thing that I think/hope it got across was how difficult it is to be an intelligent adult who cannot adequately share your thoughts and opinions. One of the immigrants featured in the programme was drawn into a discussion in a pub with some men who thought that immigrants should only come to the UK when unemployment was sorted out. Unsurprisingly, this man disagreed but found himself agreeing, or at least going along with it, because he didn't have the words, particularly in that kind of emotionally-charged situation, to explain why he disagreed. When he (and the others in the programme) was interviewed speaking his own language, we saw a completely different side to him.
Most of the 'host families' did well, but there was one lady who really didn't get on with her guest, a Polish lady. There was one point at which she said something like 'When she doesn't understand something, she just talks in Polish, then looks at me like I'm stupid'.
It was that very slight emphasis on the word 'I'm' that inspired this post of mine, because I think we have to be rid of this assumption that not speaking English means you're stupid. These ladies clashed later in the programme on the issue of CVs: the Polish lady thought a CV was simply a list of the jobs you've done (rather like a Lebenslauf in Germany), and that it didn't require any further explanation ("In my role as Chief Overlord of the world I operated a great deal of office equipment and expanded on my knowledge of procurement" etc. etc.). The host assumed she was simply being lazy by not wanting to fill in these extra details, and suggested she find a job in Poland instead. Which led to a breakdown in their relationship (which turned out fine, because the host's mother took her under her wing instead and was much more patient) that could easily have been avoided.
Basically, I'm trying to say that learning English in Britain is a highly politicised issue and is as such difficult to discuss without emotions getting involved, and that I thought it was a reasonably insightful programme that'll help people to see that learning a different language isn't simply a case of snapping your fingers, et voilà, instant fluency.
My own fluency in the various odds and ends of languages I'm trying to learn is not improving too much, meanwhile. I'm up to about 650 words in my '1000 Swedish Words and Phrases' course. If I had infinite wealth and time, I would go and immerse myself in Swedishness so I could join some of these 650 words together (and use some of my very specific vocab. I can ask people if they buy organic vegetables, for example). Until then, me and Wallander are going to spend yet more time together. I've yet to find a good Welsh course on Memrise but will keep an eye out. Irish has got even more difficult. Like, there are THREE WAYS of saying simple things like 'how are you' depending on which dialect you choose. I have no idea which dialect to choose. The Munster way of saying it seems to be the most simple, but that's one part of Ireland I can't lay ancestral claim to. I might go for Ulster, because that seems to be easiest to pronounce if not spell.
I also started a large Mongolian course today. No idea how long I'll manage to stick with it before going totally insane, especially as it's more comprehensive than all of the other courses I'm doing/have done so far, but it's fun for the moment. It sounds absolutely terrifying. I'm not surprised these people conquered most of the world. I want to hide from it.