Working in a Second Language

Salt Flatts, Bolivia.
  1. Having an accent is okay…and even a good thing.
    Many native speakers of the languages that I know have made fun of my accent in the past. This has always made me hyper-aware and self-conscious to speak. While I used to think that having an accent was negative, I realized that it is a different way of speaking and should be celebrated. Having an accent means that you speak a whole other complex language or dialect, and it sheds information on your rich history and background. Having a native accent also does not make you “better” at a certain position. On my first day, my supervisor complimented me on my “cute accent”. That compliment made me feel so much more comfortable, but at that moment, I realized the importance of getting out of my head and focusing on the tasks that I could control.
  2. Speech sounds are unique to each language
    While this sounds extremely obvious…it is hard for second language learners to remember. Speaking a different language FEELS awkward — I still am reluctant when pronouncing the guttural French “r,” as it feels comfortable for me to stick with my English “r”. This is extremely real to me. Last week I learned that the French “l” is different than the English “l” (you hold your tongue behind your teeth for longer in French). When you jump outside your linguistic comfort zone, you realize that different sounds need to be learned through muscle memory. I never wanted it to seem like I was making fun of an accent or its pronunciation; however, the speech sounds are different. This concept took me years to learn, and I am still learning this. No matter what…I still am coming to terms with accepting my accent and pronunciation (see point 1).
  3. Accidentally mixing up languages is normal
    I have countless awkward language scenarios that I have been in (ex: using the wrong word or unintentionally and unknowingly using a swear word in a scenario). I have also had moments where I have unintentionally used a word from one language, and inserted it into another. For example, the other day I slipped in the Hebrew word koneh “to buy” when speaking French. This happens to me sometimes when the word in one language seems like it could fit and sounds like the other language. However, when working fully in French, I was worried about my competence. There were two occasions when I mispronounced French words with a Spanish pronunciation. Both times, my students laughed and politely corrected me. It was totally fine!!

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