I was sitting on the bus this morning when a group of what appeared to be japanese students boarded. This was the express bus to Vancouver, WA, which has the remarkable distinction of being one of two buses in the area that makes you pay when you get off, rather than when you get on. I watched as the bus driver said repeatedly "you pay when you get off", increasing the volume of his voice with each repetition. He did the same thing when we arrived and one of the students didn't have exact change.

It was clear that one of them had a better grasp on english than the others, both instances he was seperated from the group when the incidents with the bus driver took place, and his attempts at translation barely be heard over the shouts of the bus driver.

It took all of my self restraint to keep from grabbing the bus driver and shake him yelling "They're foreign, not deaf!!".

The other thing people do is to say things slower... like the people they are talking to are stupid.

"fee Dubar unpa habbadash"

read that over and over again, read it slowly, say it aloud, scream it into the air... does it make any more sense?

I've known people who speak six languages but have a poor grasp of english treated like mental inferiors while in America. It disgusts me, I do my best to avoid this when dealing with visitors to my country from overseas as I hope they will avoid doing it to me. It's an international community, we need to start looking at things that way.

Unfortunately, this kind of experience is not uncommon.

Shortly after I came to the US, I lived in a large Capuchin friary. One day someone asked me if the mop left in the bathroom was mine. Alas, I had no idea what a mop was: I never saw one before coming to the US, I did not know what they were for even after I got to see them, and, most importantly, I did not know the word "mop".

So, I asked, "What's a mop?"

The man knew English was not my language. So, instead of telling me what a mop was, he just yelled very rapidly:

The mop! The mop! The mop!

Well, gee, that really explained it!

You think that's bad? When I lived in China, idiot tourists who came to China automatically assumed that they were the only English-speaking people in the country other than their tour guide. It is really quite insulting to hear French Eurotrash talk about how none of us speak English in the modern world (the French being some of the most racist people I know) and various Americans comment on the bad accents of the natives' English.

The thing that really ticked me off was that they were in China, not America, and yet they still acted as if people were supposed to speak English. I mean, when it is foreigners on their home soil, you can expect some proficiency in English, but they were tourists in a faraway land. Expecting English to be spoken is ridiculous. I can tell some of those people spent a bit too much time in Hong Kong.

I am also amused by the fact that me and my sister's English was probably better than most of the tourists that were complaining about the language problem. Hey, we don't expect the tourists to speak Chinese, they sure as hell shouldn't expect the natives to converse in fluid, American-accented English.

So one day a pack of Brits venture into a popular shopping area of Shanghai known for its counterfeit brand clothing. One of them, after a while of fruitless bargaining and rather prickish insults at the natives for their "horrid chink-English", turned to us (they've been asking around for a bit already) and asked:

"So, do-you-speak-English? Eng-lish?"

I looked at my sister.

"Yeah, I speak this chink-English of yours just fine. Piss off."

He left in a hurry, because I translated for the native Shanghainese and they got angry quite quickly.

People do this to the handicapped, the blind, etc. etc. It's stupid as hell, and often very frightening if you are on the receiving end.

Flip side of the coin: People who speak very loudly in their native tongue when they are in a foreign country. They needn't even be tourists, they can be immigrants or other visitors as well. I can't tell you how many times I've been sitting on a bus and heard a pair of people talking at the top of their lungs about something of a very personal nature.

Chinese people, that is, speaking Mandarin in San Francisco. I'm American...not deaf. And despite all the jokes you hear (semi-true though they are), SOME Americans speak more than one language! GASP!

It wasn't easy for me either, being the son of a Brazilian diplomat when I first moved to the US I was immediately branded a worthless spic. I never felt so humiliated in my life since where I went I was treated like a moron in High School even though I spoke three languages fluently and lived in several different countries, posessing an insight to humanity that few people in that school had. Not even the guidance counselor could see through this, since he insisted in putting me in ESL classes (english as a second language) even after I demonstrated an excellent grasp of English which I acquired in only a few months, given I am generally a quick learner. To add insult to injury, he tried to steer me into a career in manual labour (woodshop, metal shop) rather than something that would nurture my intellect. The kids in there treated me no differently. Despite all this my parents still don't understand why I burnt my yearbooks a few years after graduation.

My father actually manages to translate this effect into an even more ridiculous set of parameters. When in a foreign country, if he knows a couple words (you know, enough to order food and ask where all the neat attractions were), he will actually speak those to the natives, ie, their native language. I have an unforgettable image of him in a small resturant during our last trip to Italy, ordering spaghetti, and when the waiter didn't fully hear him, over-enunciating to the point of grimacing and, replete with hand gestures, saying slowly with a look one might give to an infant,

"Spaghetti... I'd like some Spa - ghett - ee"

Turns out the waiter spoke English like a motherfucker, too.

And then there's the time that he made his eyes into slits and starting loudly speaking in mock-Chinese while in the middle of a Chinese resturant. Weird old racist, that dad.

I've heard people air complaints about this sort of thing before, and my reaction is usually some mixture of amused indifference and a feeling of "I don't care enough to argue with you about this". Frankly, I think it's a little silly. Yes, it can be very frustrating (not to mention insulting) to be treated like an idiot, and some people are very guilty of assuming foreigners are of below-average intelligence, but there's an important fact that I think the other noders here are forgetting:

The classroom is not real life.

Think about that for a second. Unless you've been studying a foreign language for a long time, the language you hear in the classroom most likely is NOT fully authentic. Since the most common method of teaching a language is to just explain to students how it works and let them practice, teachers tend to avoid explaining too much at once. The result is simplified grammar and a disregard towards subtle nuances of speech. More importantly, the speech that students hear is often pronounced slowly for the benefit of the students.

People talk at different rates. Two people engaged in a long-winded philosophical debate will usually speak slower and enunciate more than two people having a heated argument over a very emotional topic. The philosophers will probably be speaking more softly as well, because there are strong lines of communication already established. Conversely, people will often raise their voice when they feel they aren't being understood, whether they're speaking to a foreigner or a family member.

When learning a foreign language, there are a lot of things going on behind the scenes. Not only does the student have to get a grip on the language's grammar and vocabulary, they have to become familiar with the language's phonetic inventory (ie, what sounds the language uses), phonotactics (what combinations of sounds, in what order, sound natural to a native speaker), and even where one word ends and another begins (there's a reason people who have never studied the language can't do this). Add to that the fact that a student of a foreign language is probably more used to the slow, enunciated speech of the classroom (at least early in their trip), and it's somewhat understandable that people slow down their speech for foreigners. Anyone who's ever studied a foreign language and struggled with listening comprehension homework has probably realized, at least subconsciously, that slowing things down can be helpful.

Now, should a native speaker get pissed and refuse to explain what a mop is? Of course they shouldn't. Just don't yell at me for being an ethnocentric jerk when all I'm doing is trying to make sure I'm not speaking too fast.

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