By Ana Borcoman

Edited by Maeve Bouchez

Have you ever felt a sense of consuming shame for something you regard as natural? It can vary from person to person but without a doubt, we’ve all experienced such an emotion. For me, it’s those unpleasant moments when I make an irrefutable and blatant mistake in my speech; this is usually caused by a sudden exclamation in my mother tongue while having a conversation in English.  

When I start long-winded explanations and try to express my covert opinions with vigorous passion, I get excited, enthralled, and completely engrossed in what I am saying. 

I become inattentive and I can suddenly switch to a different language without realizing it.  A word I let slip could remain unnoticed by my peers but can completely alter my mood and put me down.  

Why is that? Why must I feel ashamed for making a mistake, whether it be by accidentally alternating between languages or by messing up my pronunciation? 

It is natural to make mistakes; failure is a sign of humanity. It is commonly agreed on as being a learning opportunity. However, it can be wearisome when mockery and humiliation result from it.  I have witnessed a multitude of situations in which non-native speakers have been discriminated against by natives for their mispronunciation of an English word, and I felt a type of disgust arise within me. How can certain native speakers be so unappreciative, and demonstrate such inconsiderate disrespect? 

Most students at our school know how many strenuous hours and how much laborious work it takes to master a foreign language, feeling a sense of disappointment and acute indignity when someone makes fun of them because of it.  

In the European Schools, a large number of pupils are SWALS (Students Without A Language Section). These particular students may have a hard time settling in a specific language section, and in some cases, might feel left out and isolated because of their inability to communicate in any other language except their L1. They might feel a sense of shame, believing that their level in one language is lower than required. Especially with students that are new to our school and are not accustomed to its system, we must show kindness and willingness to help these pupils’ integration.  

Even if we speak a foreign language perfectly, it can still be difficult to pronounce certain words. Most foreign students are faced with phonological problems when trying to learn a new language.  

Studies show that students experience difficulties regarding consonant sounds, idioms, and slang, the latter being especially challenging for new learners as it is informal and usually cannot be taught in academic environments. Daily speech and knowing how to utilize it are crucial in social situations and everyday scenarios.  

Idioms can also be troublesome for non-native speakers because certain phrases only make sense in a specific language. A few examples of this could be “to break a leg,” meaning “good luck,” or “to be under the weather,” something we say when a person is ill. Some idioms do not have literal equivalents in other languages. 

We must take into account all these factors before judging someone’s ability to speak. Even though English is considered a relatively elementary language that can be mastered easily, it can still be difficult for some. We all learn at our own pace and that is completely normal. As someone who is quadrilingual, I always confuse languages with one another, but I wholeheartedly encourage students not to disconnect themselves from their mother tongue, and not to be ashamed of it as it is part of their very own cultural identity. 

Why should we learn new languages? How can it benefit us? 

Within our school there is the possibility of studying up to five languages until S7 (Latin can also be chosen as an optional course). Securing language certificates will offer you a better chance at being accepted into a first-rate, elite university; being fluent in multiple languages may help you stand out amongst other applicants.  

Learning a new language is useful, rewarding, and exciting; it is a long process that leads to a remarkable understanding of other cultures, traditions, and ethnic values. It is also great for personal use when traveling abroad and making new acquaintances. Jobs in translation within certain organizations and institutions are often well paid too. 

I really encourage the pursuit of knowledge and the learning of new languages. It has benefited me in innumerable ways, and I have been diligently maintaining my own language proficiency and perfecting it through practice. It is important to remain consistent and view negative feedback as an opportunity to learn, persevere and gain confidence in your abilities.  

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