Magazine topic: 
Life around the world

Being a native English speaker abroad

by : 
HollyK

Sometimes it can be great having English as a first language. Being an English speaker can be highly advantageous, and can give you access to opportunities that wouldn’t be available otherwise. It’s a language of business, culture and entertainment, and is officially the most popular language to learn. However, there are also disadvantages of being raised as a native English speaker.

First of all, it can be incredibly difficult to communicate with native speakers of other languages when all they want to do is practise their English. Sometimes they’re just doing it to be helpful, and I appreciate that. However, it doesn’t exactly help the English speaker in the long run. More often than not, the English speaker is deprived of a chance to practise speaking their target language. I am currently living with a native German speaker, who finds it far easier to speak English with me than French. While it’s less stressful to speak English, it certainly isn’t helping my French much.

At first it might seem that English speakers are very confident and outgoing. They might also come across as a bit arrogant, as many English speakers feel no need to learn other languages. However, in my opinion, when it comes to learning other languages, native English speakers are also very shy and reluctant to speak. As a result, they are too afraid to try and learn another language, for fear of looking stupid.

Even when you do speak a foreign language, people will often make demoralising assumptions about you. While this hasn’t happened to me as much as I thought it would after moving abroad, I have experienced a few instances in which people aren’t willing to listen past the English accent. There have been times where someone has explained something to my flatmates in French, only to repeat it again to me in English, despite the fact that I understood pretty much everything they said the first time. I also dread having to ask someone to repeat something, as they will often assume that I speak no French at all and will try to repeat themselves in slow English. Sometimes it’s helpful, sometimes it’s really patronising, and sometimes it’s a bit of both.

On the whole, I’m glad that I can speak English and I’m definitely not ashamed of it. However, being a native English speaker can also have its drawbacks, as strange as it might sound.

Discussion

Have you ever tried speaking a foreign language abroad? How did you feel and how did people react to you?