I dare say that 90% of immigrants have at some point had a discussion either with other immigrants or Australians about the importance of speaking English in this country.
And I also dare say that 90% of us (immigrants and native speakers) agree that speaking the language of the country you live in, is important.
It’s important for your education, your job employment, your health, your social life … everything really. It goes without saying that not speaking the language of the country you’re in, is simply going to make your life harder.
Learning a new language is so easy … except for when it’s not
That aside, we should hold on for a second and think about what’s involved in actually learning a new language and acquiring language skills to a level that allows you to communicate with others without feeling embarrassed, shy or even stupid.
While children of migrants usually don’t seem to have much of a problem learning the new language, it’s much harder for their parents. It will take years and years of practice, time, money and effort to get to a certain level and you will most likely never sound like a native speaker, no matter how hard you try.
So now, if you are reading this and are someone who’s never lived in a country of which you didn’t speak the language and as someone who might be lucky enough to have been born in a country that you do not wish or have to leave, you might wonder why an immigrant would even come to a country they don’t speak the language of? Why wouldn’t they just stay in their own countries or move to a country in which the same language is spoken?
The answer to that question is as diverse as it gets. The reason might be better a better economic situation, a better standard of living, a simple adventure, life threatening environment, love … anything goes.
Easier said than done
I believe that the most important part here is trying and doing your best and that goes for both, the immigrants and the Australians.
It’s the immigrant’s job to try and do their best to learn the language if for no other reason than for their own sake, for improving their own lives. What’s required from the native speakers is to try and put themselves in the immigrant’s shoes every once in a while. Try and understand how not knowing a language (think back of that trip you took to Italy for example) made you feel, how you weren’t quite yourself when you didn’t know how to express yourself … didn’t even know how to ask for where the bathrooms are, or how much something costs.
Give each other a fair go. Immigrants need to try to get their language skills up to a level where an Australian will be able to understand you. After all, if we can understand each other, we can hear each other and get to know each other better and maybe, maybe start judging each other less.
You’re lucky if you speak English
Last but most certainly not least, I would say that it’s harder for English native speakers to imagine how one must feel not being able to communicate with the person you depend on or need something from. After all, English is the lingua franca.
Wherever you go on, you will be able to communicate in English. Maybe the other person will not understand you perfectly or you them, but the chance of you going on holidays to almost anywhere in this world and not meeting at least a handful of people who will be able to speak English with you, is almost zero.
You’re lucky English is the lingua franca and that’s the truth. You’re lucky you’re a native speaker of a language that is globally accepted as THE language to communicate in, if everything else fails.
The majority of immigrants aren’t that lucky, yet are still trying to do their best to become better at what is most likely their second language (or third, or fourth ….). Apart from being under extreme stress, not knowing what’s going to happen to their life here, depending on a visa, depending on the employer to not fire them because that makes them lose their right to stay here and so much more, a majority is still trying to learn and improve their English so they will be more accepted and welcomed in Australia.
Let’s all start to think about not just ourselves, but from time to time about the other person and where they’re coming from (literally and figuratively).