Where to begin.
Now, let me start off by saying that I love my husband, and his English is off-the-charts amazing for having picked it up so late in life. Trust me, sometimes the quality of the things he says shocks me. And let me also state that I, really, am in no position to complain about my husband’s English-language skills when my Spanish skills are so sub-par. Ever. I never have that right.
Well, I still have to live with him, don’t I? And communicate with him on a much-more-regular basis than with anyone else in my life, excluding my daughter and my dog (whose English skills I actually can’t complain about, even if I wanted to).
There are simply moments – moments that are mostly unseen by others outside our relationship. In those moments, I get frustrated, stomp my feet a little, he waves it off, snaps back, – or, by golly, he corrects himself – and we get on with our lives.
But, on the rare occasion that someone else gets an earful of my frustration as a response to the way my dear husband says something, I suddenly sound like a heartless, impatient wife from hell. Which I’m not…
It is often those moments that torture me when Humberto says something that he has learnt to say improperly because he thought – and still thinks – his way sounds better or more correct, even after being told otherwise. So in his head, it is correct even when incorrect. To which I say:
On the other hand, it could just be a difficult concept to understand or put into practice. Some languages have structures or words that don’t exist in English and vice versa.
So what’s the big deal, Jen? Why can’t you just let him be? I clearly understood him, and so did you. Give the poor guy a break!
Sometimes that’s just not the point. Anyone who knows me knows that I have been learning and studying foreign languages for more than 15 years, and I have never once decided to change the structure of a sentence in a foreign language, even if I felt it sounded better. That’s ridiculous – to me. And I am entitled to my potentially-equally ridiculous opinions.
That being said, I do find my husband’s reasoning hilarious and quite endearing…until I am frustrated and he lays that messy sentence structure down in front of me (that we have talked about at least 1,000,000 times prior) like thumb tacks on the floor.
Putting us and our relationship to the side for a moment, let’s get real here. Frustration at someone’s language skills – or lack thereof – is normal and happens all the time. It is frustrating and difficult to speak with someone at length who you are having trouble communicating effectively with. That is the same reason why many toddlers throw fits (one big reason). To be unable to properly communicate your thoughts and feelings, or to feel misunderstood, can be terribly discouraging and drag up all sorts of emotions. But this is never an excuse to disrespect a second-language-learner. So don’t.
My husband’s English is absolutely riddled with mistakes, big and small, as is similar with most second-language speakers. Some mistakes are the same kinds that native English speakers regularly make, and some are clearly derived from his understanding of his first language – and that’s okay.
Luckily, our squabbles about his English (often precipitated by me) have nothing to do with intolerance or my judgement of his language skills. People mistake this a lot. Rather, because I am such an avid language-learner, it is the disconnect between his and my approaches to language mistakes that gets me going. In my case, once I have found I have been making a mistake, I focus on it, practice it, and try to fix it, whereas, with certain mistakes, my husband brushes it off nonchalantly (which, I admit, I should probably do more myself) and continues with his story.
He is not wrong to not place too much weight on his mistakes. The entire point of language is to be able to communicate effectively, which he does, and then some, about 97% of the time.
And I am also not wrong (well, not necessarily) to want to help him prevent a breakdown in understanding with others. When mistakes are causing confusion or less-than-effective communication, sometimes it stands to reason that one should work to correct themselves.
And therein lies our ESL issues; no more, no less. A language is a terribly difficult thing to learn, nonetheless to master, and (despite what my frustrations may seem to communicate to outsiders on occasion) I have the utmost respect for the proficiency my husband has attained.
And how could I complain when its an ESL learner who always beats me at scrabble? 🙄