Why don’t they learn our language? or How did they manage to do it?

How would you study after a day in the life of an immigrant?
How would you study after a day in the life of an immigrant?

Continuing on the theme of “Why don’t immigrants learn our language?” (see this post and this post) I wanted to present why the situation is not as simple as people think.

Most people who complain about this in the US speak English only, and so remain blissfully unaware of the complications of learning another language.

My more sophisticated brothers and sisters in Europe likely learned English, and so understand the difficulties. Nevertheless, they learned their foreign language in the comfort of their local school surrounded by family and friends taking care of them.

Immigrants have it hard because of their circumstances, both the situation they left and the life they have in their new country. Learning a new language creates even more work and difficulties in addition to getting by in this new, foreign place.

Yet they learn.

When I used to teach, I remember the reaction of my students when I would add an extra reading assignment. “We don’t have time,” they would inevitably say. I would smile and tell them that one day they would learn what “busy” meant, but at the moment, they were not busy.

We are not as busy as we think. This is what many of us have to grow into when we think about immigrants, and a valuable lesson immigrants can teach the rest of us.

Let’s look more deeply into their circumstances. It’s humbling. We’ll see that the question is not, “Why don’t they learn our language?” but “How did they manage to learn our language?” At the end, I’ll give you a few ways to use your favorable circumstances to the advantage of others.
How they learned

Bear others’ burdens by learning their language

Are you ready to serve with your language-learning?
Are you ready to serve with your language-learning?

My last post, “Assimilation is a two-way street: Learn your neighbor’s language,” created vehement reactions in a Facebook forum for polyglots. My post suggested that one could and should help immigrants and refugees by learning their language. (For the sake of simplicity, I will refer to both immigrants and refugees as “immigrants,” since refugees are a special sub-class of immigrants.)

Let me be clearer about the paradigm I’m working from. In my mind, the immigrant is a guest and the native is a host. Both have a role to play. Moreover, the host is not allowed to say, “If I were a guest I would…” The host simply does the work of the host. By the same token, the guest can only do the work of the guest. Each bears the burden of the other.

Continue reading “Bear others’ burdens by learning their language”

Crime and punishment in loving languages

Excluding languages is against the law
Excluding languages is against the law

I love hearing people speak multiple languages around me. Recently I’ve gotten over any nervousness about asking people what language they speak, so I’m always having fun with the people and languages around me.

Nevertheless, I know that this feeling does not permeate all of our culture. Plenty of bosses feel the need to control how people talk to one another. Employees feel excluded when colleagues speak to each other in a language they don’t understand. Customers feel suspicious that workers speaking another language might be saying unflattering things about them. Our society largely distrusts other languages, dividing those who only speak English and everyone else.

Forcing only English to be spoken at work is against the law. It is discrimination. Yet some employers exclude languages at work even while workers talk on the phone to family members or walk to their cars in the parking lot. While I would prefer that people enjoy the languages around them, I am relieved that eliminating all languages besides English at work breaks the law. I wanted to present some examples of real language discrimination, as well as the settlements against it, both in the US and abroad.
Read the costs of linguistic discrimination

Lose your accent! English vowel /æ/ “short a”

He's getting there!
He’s getting there!

You can sound like a native.

The vowel “short a” requires special work by English learners, because /æ/ is articulated so much like /a/ and /ɛ/. In this video I contrast these sounds in similar words.

  • bat, bought, bet
  • cat, caught
  • dad, dot, dead
  • hat, hot, head

As usual I talk specifically about the tongue and lip position, as well as the jaw, so that you can feel and see the sound, in addition to hearing it.

Even though speaking with a foreign accent seems like a normal state, you can learn how to make the sounds that sound easy in the mouths of natives. This video series increases your awareness of all the parts of your mouth you use for speaking. A language never felt so good!

Dr. Thomas Coates blew my mind. He taught me how my tongue, lips, jaw, and teeth create language. Like a Chinese calligrapher learns how each finger holds a brush, like a yogi breathes with specific depth and stretch of her diaphragm, I took the first steps towards mastering language: losing my accent.

Enjoy!

Lose your accent! English vowel /ə/ “schwa”

It looks like he's saying it right!
It looks like he’s saying it right!

You can sound like a native.

The vowel /ə/schwa” requires special work by English learners, because /ə/ is articulated so much like /a/ and /ɛ/. In this video I contrast these sounds in similar words.

  • but, bought, bet
  • cut, caught/cot, get
  • dud, dot, dead

As usual I talk specifically about the tongue and lip position, as well as the jaw, so that you can feel and see the sound, in addition to hearing it.

Even though speaking with a foreign accent seems like a normal state, you can learn how to make the sounds that sound easy in the mouths of natives. This video series increases your awareness of all the parts of your mouth you use for speaking. A language never felt so good!

Dr. Thomas Coates blew my mind. He taught me how my tongue, lips, jaw, and teeth create language. Like a Chinese calligrapher learns how each finger holds a brush, like a yogi breathes with specific depth and stretch of her diaphragm, I took the first steps towards mastering language: losing my accent.

Enjoy!

Lose your accent! English “L”

Place your tongue correctly for the different English L's
Place your tongue correctly for the different English L’s

You can sound like a native.

English has different ways of pronouncing “L”, especially in the US. Generally at the beginning of syllables the tip of the tongue goes up, what we call a “light L.” At the end of syllables, the tip of the tongue stays down, as well as the middle of the tongue, what we call a “dark L.”

This video demonstrates the different pronunciation of dark and light “L” in different contexts, using multiple examples.

Even though speaking with a foreign accent seems like a normal state, you can learn how to make the sounds that sound easy in the mouths of natives. This video series increases your awareness of all the parts of your mouth you use for speaking. A language never felt so good!

Dr. Thomas Coates blew my mind. He taught me how my tongue, lips, jaw, and teeth create language. Like a Chinese calligrapher learns how each finger holds a brush, like a yogi breathes with specific depth and stretch of her diaphragm, I took the first steps towards mastering language: losing my accent.

Enjoy!

Photo credit: M Glasgow via Foter.com / CC BY

Lose your accent! English vowels and American diphthongs

Enjoy using your tongue to pronounce American English vowels correctly!
Enjoy using your tongue to pronounce American English vowels correctly!

You can sound like a native.

Non-native speakers often give themselves away with their vowels, as English tends to pronounce them as diphthongs. American English diphthongizes them in a unique way. (In fact, you can tell a lot about a variety of English by its diphthongs.)

In this video I explain the Standard American English diphthongs of /ey/, /ow/, and /uw/ of my native dialect, having grown up in a middle-class family in Nebraska and Colorado.

Even though speaking with a foreign accent seems like a normal state, you can learn how to make the sounds that sound easy in the mouths of natives. This video series increases your awareness of all the parts of your mouth you use for speaking. A language never felt so good!

Dr. Thomas Coates blew my mind. He taught me how my tongue, lips, jaw, and teeth create language. Like a Chinese calligrapher learns how each finger holds a brush, like a yogi breathes with specific depth and stretch of her diaphragm, I took the first steps towards mastering language: losing my accent.

Enjoy!

Photo credit: Derek K. Miller via Foter.com / CC BY-NC

Lose your accent! English “th” (with American English “r”)

Don't get frustrated! You can pronounce "th" like a native.
Don’t get frustrated! You can pronounce “th” like a native.

You can sound like a native.

This sound challenges most learners of American English because it requires the speaker to position the tongue with the tip slightly beyond the teeth. On its own, the sound is not so hard, but articulating it alongside other unique English sounds—like the American “r”—brings its own troubles. This video helps you put the sound into context with other difficult sounds, but thinking about where your tongue is and what it is touching will help you pronounce English better.

Even though speaking with a foreign accent seems like a normal state, you can learn how to make the sounds that sound easy in the mouths of natives. This video series increases your awareness of all the parts of your mouth you use for speaking. A language never felt so good!

Dr. Thomas Coates blew my mind. He taught me how my tongue, lips, jaw, and teeth create language. Like a Chinese calligrapher learns how each finger holds a brush, like a yogi breathes with specific depth and stretch of her diaphragm, I took the first steps towards mastering language: losing my accent.

Enjoy!

Photo credit: ta||tim via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

Lose your accent! American English “r”

Focus on your mouth and discover the right accent!
Focus on your mouth and discover the right accent!

You can sound like a native.

This sound challenges most learners of American English because it requires the speaker to point the tongue up while not quite touching the roof of the mouth. If you can say “t”, though, you can say “r.” Watch this video and you will learn to feel where your tongue is.

Even though speaking with a foreign accent seems like a normal state, you can learn how to make the sounds that sound easy in the mouths of natives. This video series increases your awareness of all the parts of your mouth you use for speaking. A language never felt so good!

Dr. Thomas Coates blew my mind. He taught me how my tongue, lips, jaw, and teeth create language. Like a Chinese calligrapher learns how each finger holds a brush, like a yogi breathes with specific depth and stretch of her diaphragm, I took the first steps towards mastering language: losing my accent.

Enjoy!

Photo credit: Tim Kirman Photography via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

The US is truly a Tower of Babel

The Tower of Babel
The Tower of Babel

And the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech.

And it came to pass, as they journeyed from the east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar; and they dwelt there. And they said one to another, “Go to, let us make brick, and burn them throughly.” And they had brick for stone, and slime had they for morter. And they said, “Go to, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.”

And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of men builded. And the Lord said, “Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do:and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do. Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.”

So the Lord scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth:and they left off to build the city. Therefore is the name of it called Babel; because the Lord did there confound the language of all the earth:and from thence did the Lord scatter them abroad upon the face of all the earth (Genesis 11:1-9)

Many Americans see multiple languages in our country as a threat. As I presented in my last post the US has suppressed other languages since its inception until today. We always see foreigners as a threat, but if they at least speak English, then they have assimilated to an acceptable degree.

Oddly, the rallying cry of the “English only” crowd is, “Let us not become another Tower of Babel.” (For example, Pat Buchanan says so here, and one of the authors of this article does the same here.) This implies that a lack of official language leads to chaos and the inability to work towards a common goal.

This stance shows that they don’t know what the “Tower of Babel” means. I’d like to go back over the story, so for this reason I cited the story, above. I hold a PhD in Ancient Hebrew and Old Testament (Hebrew Bible), so I place a lot of importance on the interpretation of the Bible. My aim is not to convert anyone here or make anyone religious, but to understand some of the historical background of this biblical story as it relates to the modern US. (If you are interested in hearing a discussion about this story that delves more into the biblical aspects of this story, please listen to this podcast episode of “The Bible as Literature Podcast,” that my friend and I produce.)
The US *is* a Tower of Babel