“Why do you speak English so good?” – Well, because I studied the language.

There is a difference between speaking  a second language and learning it. Knowing a few words can help you get around in a foreign country or can help bridge a gap with fellow tourists or coworkers but understanding the language and its roots, its nuances and lexicon, requires careful study. To fully claim mastery, one must become aware of the importance of syntax and proper grammar; on how the characters and symbols help convey the message or idea as intended. It takes many years to reach a high level of proficiency, to ger to the point at which people can’t resist complementing eloquence, delivery and improvisation skills. That is if they understand their own language well enough to notice, or are well verse in the one you are using to address them.

The downside of having spent so much time minding my ps and qs, along with my diction and everyday jargon, is that native speakers will find a way of giving you backhanded compliments. From, you must have learned this stateside to that word is not used by your kind in English therefore you must have plagiarized the content, the microaggressions are endless. With such a deficient educational system in play, one can find themselves in situations where erudite and/or sophisticated vocabulary will work against you even in professional settings. I had a manager once ask a coworker to stop using fancy words to get their points across in a technical environment. Ugh! Ignorance plays a role in this misconception because the speaker may not realize that other cultures promote teaching children a second or third language due to socio-political and business reasons. In effect, the foreigner or non native speaker has the upper hand, a thing the locals dislike because they feel inferior. The USA needs to bring back etiquette and intellectualism. It’s easier to do this than to “fix stupid”.

The schooling in Puerto Rico, and in many international metropolitan cities, requires that we speak and study English since Pre-kindergarten. This offers an edge culturally because their young citizens will be able to read and write in multiple languages. This is why it shouldn’t come as a surprise that a person raised outside the USA can master a foreign language. (Or that one raised in the USA can’t master more than American English either.) Studying “book” or proper English taught me that words can have different meaning and interpretation in both our mother tongue and our adoptive one. Thus it becomes apparent quickly that there is more than one way to interpret a statement, a source of constant confusion for many ESL (English as a Second Language) peers that come from languages that are more specific in their definitions and vernacular. I’ve watched many meetings spiral out of control over a misplaced article, incorrectly conjugated verb, missing preposition or poor adverb or adjective usage and placement. Don’t get me started on prefixes, suffixes and root origins! Lots of ground to cover, with lots of places to loose a conversation. Knowing the language inside and out helps me bring order to someone’s chaotic speech patterns. An invaluable skill to have if you ask any employer.

In today’s world, it is imperative and extemely satisfactory to know more than one method of communication. Be it sign language, which has its nuances too, computer programming, or the writen and spoken word, there is a need for diversity of thought and deeper understanding of language. You can only fully appreciate where someone is coming from when you can derrive meaning from the thoughts left between the lines, or by critically analyzing what a person with an accent or speech impediment is attempting to state. By reading and listening to the idea in its original format and style. Only when you can grasp the pitfalls of your own tongue, physiology and global significance of posture and tone can you be certain that the message has been received and can be correctly interpreted and replicated. Just as we must listen to give thoughtful answers, we must speak well to be understood and rally together. This is why I treasure reading and traveling since they both give me a sense of belonging as a citizen of the world not tied to just one perception and interpretation of the truth.

Learning about the popular culture and history of the United States and Great Britain, or any country and culture you wish to explore, also helps cement the meaning behind the spoken words. Certain parts of the country and certain subcultures rely on hidden or oversimplified definitions and uses of content, slang for short, that are difficult to learn out of context. If you are constantly wondering what was really said or meant try reading popular books, watching soaps and recurring topic TV shows to get a better idea of what the phrases and words mean to the story and the viewers. The motivation behind the content and the reason it is relevant, funny or out of place (like insults and curse words) will stand out after a few episodes. It takes a lot of patience and dedication to delve this deep into the lexicon but it will be worth while. Being understood is just as important as being heard.

Necessity is the mother of invention and innovation. Travel the world and absorb the beauty of the differences in people, language and lifestyles. What you may learn about your own abilities will suprise you…

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