“Your English is not good enough” – and other misconceptions about EAL speakers – The Varsity
Have you already summer in a situation where you were made to feel that your English was not “good enough?” Have you hesitated to participate in a conversation because you thought you would not be understood? On the contrary, has anyone ever said to you, “I’m really surprised that your English is good?” If so, this article is for you.
English is my second language. I became a fluent English speaker in third grade, so it’s been a while since I’ve thought about the difficulties that have come with the process of learning the language. On March 17, however, I was asked to reminisce about my journey while attending Overcoming the Messaging That Your English ‘Isn’t Good Enough’, a seminar organized by U of T Student Life. The event was designed for international students, multilingual students, newcomers to Canada and students who use English as an Additional Language (ALA). It covered topics such as the legitimacy of World English, accents, dialects, and the benefits of multilingualism in academic settings.
I moved to Canada when I was in elementary school. At the time, some of my teachers had an “English only rule”, meaning that in class we were forbidden to speak any language other than English. I understand that these teachers may have intended to help us learn English faster by fully immersing us in an English-speaking environment. In hindsight, however, all this rule did was completely rob me of my confidence in communication.
The biggest flaw in the English-only policy became apparent when I was bullied or got into a fight with a classmate. The fight itself was not a major issue; kids fight all the time. But since I still didn’t have a perfect command of the English language, I didn’t have the vocabulary to defend myself or explain myself. Even if I did, I felt embarrassed for not speaking properly, which would cause teachers to consider me unintelligent.
Looking back, I wish I had known that my intelligence didn’t match my familiarity with a specific language. It’s never too late to share this knowledge with someone else, which is why I’m writing this article.
This brings me to the subject of accents. If you are an EAL speaker, it may be useful to know that accent and pronunciation are completely independent terms. While pronunciation refers to how we say a specific word, an accent is the melody of the spoken language, which is unique to each person. As learning strategist and seminar host, Yaseen Ali, said, “Everyone has an accent. It’s just that there is a hierarchy on which the accents are positioned.
For many of us who have immigrated to an English-speaking country, a common experience is to feel embarrassed by our accents. This is also a point Ali made: “Having an accent is like having a fingerprint, [because] it’s so unique, and it’s so specific to you.
Ali also added that, of the two billion English speakers in the world, the majority speak it as a second language. This has led to a concept known as “translinguage”, which refers to the use of elements and vocabulary from two different languages to communicate. Keeping in mind variants of speech such as “Spanglish”, does it matter if you pronounce English words with an accent?
Additionally, multilingualism is a desirable trait. At its most basic, speaking another language can help you connect with members of your community and family members. But it also lets you connect with more people, which can turn your dating pool into an ocean. In 2017, dating site Elite Singles and language-learning app Babbel surveyed 450 Canadians and found that 82% were more attracted to people who spoke another language.
There are also expressions, feelings and thoughts that can only be conveyed appropriately in specific languages. Being multilingual can promote an additional worldview, as it gives you the ability to understand concepts that would otherwise be lost in translation.
Finally, multilingualism exposes people to many more career opportunities. Studies have shown that multilingual people are able to switch tasks faster and more easily than monolinguals. They are also better equipped to process information efficiently and simply. Perhaps that is why, in the last five years, the demand for bilingual workers in America has more than doubled. Overall, your ability to speak two or more languages can give you a head start in hiring processes.
Participating in Overcoming the Messaging That Your English ‘Isn’t Good Enough’ has helped me better deal with misconceptions that have impacted my confidence in language learning. While in the past I believed it was my responsibility to extend conversations with a native English speaker, I realized that all conversations had to be a joint effort to understand each other. My teachers should have tried harder to understand me in class, rather than expecting me to instantly articulate my thoughts thoroughly.My advice to anyone facing the same obstacles as me is: stop apologizing for having an accent, confusing grammar in a sentence, and sometimes being unable to get your point across. The experience you bring to the English language makes you unique — and it’s as good as it takes.