I’ve often told people that the greatest gift my parents ever gave me – you know, beside the obvious life, food and shelter—is that of fluent bilingualism. From the moment I was born through to the completion of a Bachelor’s degree, I’ve dealt in both French and English. Later in life, I even added a third language: Spanish.
Learning another language opens you up to a whole new world, different cultures, countless friendships… Beautiful isn’t it? Unfortunately, it also opens one up to a whole new category of pet peeves.
Here I share my top 5 annoyances as a speaker of multiple languages:
1. Simultaneous translation
I currently call Lima, Peru home. And while I usually love being surrounded by Spanish, when it came to watching the Emmys Sunday night, I couldn’t stand it. Is there anything more frustrating than trying to enjoy the “candid” red carpet banter through a live interpreter’s stuttering, monotonous voice? “Hola…Soy cree hrm–Ryan Seacrest.”
You catch little bits of the original language and you just know they miss stuff. I KNOW Jesse Tyler Ferguson told Ryan something about his tie, but I just don’t know what. Damn it! Of course, a much more respectable example would have been watching parliamentary debates in Canada’s two official languages on CPAC, but let’s face it, sometimes an actor’s tie is more interesting.
2. Sports announcers grossly mispronouncing names
As a Canadian, I’ve seen my fair share of hockey games broadcast over the years. And while I can’t call myself a hockey fan per se (please don’t revoke my citizenship), I still think the dudes deserve to have their names pronounced correctly.
Call me old fashioned but it’s a matter of respect. The dude has worked his butt off and mastered the sport, all you have to do is get the pronunciation of his name right. Good God man! This is what you do for a living! Spell it phonetically on the teleprompter if you have to.
3. Switching languages
When I address a native speaker in their language, I expect them to respond in that same language. None of this switching from French to English because you sense my Franco-Ontarian accent: “Est-ce que vous me recommandez ce modèle?”, “Yes, the processor on this one is particularly fast.” Lady, you are more likely to make the sale if you don’t share your negative opinion of my pronunciation by changing languages.
I get it, you want to make sure the person is comfortable. You might not be able to understand them through their thick accent. The trick, my friends, is to let them know you could be speaking the other language, without doing so. When I’m not sure if someone would be more comfortable speaking another language I let a word from that language “slip” in conversation (“Wow!””Fantastique!”) with an unmistakable accent. If they prefer to change languages they in turn exclaim “Hablas español!” or “Vous parlez français” and carry on in that language, relieved.
4. Bashing people who speak another language for wanting to, well, speak and preserve their language.
This is something I’ve encountered fairly often as my homeland has two official languages. Language rights are a big deal. I’ll admit that sometimes policies, protests and complaints can go too far, but so can narrow-mindedness, bigotry and intellectual laziness.
The anglos did this to us eons ago, the francos are annoying. As someone who shares a part of her identity with both of Canada’s main European ancestors I feel torn. Quite frankly, if as much of your time was invested in learning your neighbour’s language as it has been in hating on them, we’d all be better off. Languages should be viewed as an asset, not as the basis to alienate one another!
5. Not knowing more languages!
Much like getting bitten by the travel bug while abroad results in a thirst for more globetrotting, I’ve found the acquisition of language is addictive. I had barely reached fluency in Spanish by the time I developed an itch to learn Portuguese. I haven’t gone through with it yet as I want to ensure the quality of my most recently acquired language before throwing its cousin into the mix. It’s only a matter of time though. Just can’t kick the habit!
So there you have it. A whole lot of whining about an overall wonderful thing. Do you speak more than one language? What are your pet peeves?
p.s. When dealing in multiple languages, I’ve found this website particularly useful. Its forums are a good place for double checking the more nuanced aspects of a language and how a certain expression might translate into another: www.wordreference.com