There are few things that are more frustrating for a language learner than people defaulting to English when they are struggling to speak or understand the target language.
I've realized I'm not alone in this feeling. Even though we all know that people mean well, and are just trying to communicate, but it can become a source of blame and frustration for those trying to learn a new language.
Last Sunday, I walked to the shop to pick up some milk and a baguette for breakfast. I went to pay, and didn’t give the cashier exact change, which is preferred here in France.
So he asked again for the change in English, but I actually just didn’t want to sort through all my coins.
He then repeats in English, “Can I do it?”
And I reply in French, “No, I can”, as I sort through the coins and hand them over.
After this quick, non-consequential interaction, I walk out of the shop frustrated and angry at this man for speaking to me in English. And my mind quickly goes to the place of blaming all of the French people here for defaulting to English, and therefore hindering my language learning. Why? He has no idea that I understand French, for all he knows I’m a tourist who has no idea what’s going on and he is truly being helpful. But my default reaction is to go to a place where I feel like a victim to this man hindering my French learning.
Then as I walk back home, I start rationalizing with myself. This is obviously not the case. This man is not the reason I’m still not fluent in French. It is 100% my fault, and no one else’s.
Yet I can recall multiple times I’ve said in conversation, “Oh the French always default to English and then I don’t get the chance to practice and learn.” True, and while still utterly annoying, it’s not their fault that I don’t speak better French. It’s entirely my fault for not integrating more, staying within my expat English-speaking community, and generally not putting myself out there more.
When we blame, we actually have a problem within ourselves
It is so easy to blame and push the ownership off ourselves and onto someone or something else. But the core of this blame is really a problem within ourselves.
Research Professional Brené Brown states that, “blame is the discharge of discomfort & pain." And because it gives us some semblance on control, it's easy to default to blame. How often do you smack your elbow and instantly want to curse SOMEONE for it? I hope it's not just me! I want to discharge that pain of bumping into something, when it has nothing to do with that table in the way.
Why am I blaming this man for my French? Because I am unhappy and ashamed with myself that my French is not better. This is an internal issue that I have projected onto someone totally unrelated to the true problem.
What can you do to stop blaming?
The only way we can get better at this is by catching ourselves in the act of blaming, stepping back, and acknowledging that we are blaming someone else for a problem we have.
It takes time, you won’t catch yourself right away. You also will probably still get angry or irritated, but it’s a practice. That will get better with time, and once you catch yourself. You can take accountability, and then direct that negative energy towards something more positive.
What have you been blaming others for lately?
For anyone who is struggling with locals speaking English I found a video on how to prevent this from happening. Although French-focused I think it would work for any language.