I am often surprised at narrow-minded, superiority complexes harbored by people especially when it comes to languages. I have seen and met with people who see one language as superior to other, or see themselves as superior to someone else because they speak a language better than another person, and it makes me wonder if a particular language is criterion for superiority.
Let’s consider English for example. As a bilingual with English as a second language, I was often ridiculed because I was pretty good at English. The comments were not kind; some labeled me a show-off while others told me off for having a superiority complex, and during this entire time, more often than not, I did not interact with them in English. I have also witnessed the same treatment given to other bilinguals and it appears to me a reaction purely out of spite.
Then there is the other end of the spectrum: English speakers. I have witnessed English speakers act condescendingly towards those who do not speak with perfect fluency or accent, or make a lot of grammatical or spelling mistakes. This is not limited to Native English speakers rather it also includes bilinguals who speak English as a second language.
Replace English with any other language and the behavior remains the same. Now, I am not saying that everyone who does or does not speak more than one language behaves like that. There are a lot of rational people who do not place such importance on languages, but this is about those, not so few, people I have encountered who act as described above.
All languages have a difficulty level and not all 7 billion people on Earth speak the same language. So it is a given that there will be differences in fluency levels of people who share common languages. Even I, in my mother tongue, cannot compete with my mom or even my best friend because I have comparatively low vocabulary and incorrect pronunciation. There are even times when I ask my mom how to write something in it and this is the case when I have been speaking it regularly since birth. On the other hand, I have better fluency and command at English and in that case, the situations are reversed.
Usually, people have better command of their native language and lower fluency at second languages. Therefore, they place lower importance on that second language or have lesser practice speaking it. That, however, is no reason to look down on people just because they cannot speak a language “correctly”. For someone who can speak, for instance English, fluently, it shows their narrow-minded narcissism when they act condescendingly towards someone who has just the basic English-speaking capability, calling them dumb and laughing at them for being stupid.
On the other hand, criticizing and ridiculing someone who is good at a second language shows narrow-mindedness and self-doubt. I do not understand why a person who can speak more than one language should not be applauded. That person is able to communicate with a wider group of people from different countries, able to understand written materials and such from those countries, share ideas, transcend language barriers, and yet they are made fun of for knowing a second language. It is incomprehensible and I am unable to find a rational justification for it.
Language is all about practice. The more a person practices, the better they are at it. It is different from math or science which, usually, have single conclusions that can be verified easily. There are grammar points, vocabulary, connotations, intonations, spellings and so on, involved which make it difficult to grasp except with active usage. There are many ways of saying the same thing and they can make the intent either positive or negative. Not everyone wishes to undergo such difficult training unless they are absolutely required to do so or have a very high interest in learning a language. Additionally, it is hard to practice a second language when a lot of people in one’s home country do not speak it and that prolongs the time it takes to become highly fluent in it.Yet, a person who can speak a second language, even in the most basic way, did put in effort to learn it and should be commended for it.
Personally, I highly respect people who know more than one language, especially those languages which have no common ground, because it shows the time and effort put in by the individual to learn about a completely different speaking manner and culture. It shows the demanding hours they put in to understand the nuances and to build up confidence to communicate and be at par with a native speaker. However, because I realize how hard it is to learn a different language, I do not hold people responsible for knowing just one language. Not everyone has the time, reason, or aptitude to undergo such grueling training and even with just one language, they excel at things of which I, as a bilingual, do not even know the basics.
In the end, prejudices are born with negative thoughts and action such as those described here, and if we really wish to preach about tolerance and not being biased, we need to revise our thinking even for something as simple as language. Different countries have different cultures, different ideas and thoughts, different priorities, and they may not place the same importance on a certain language as another country. This is also applicable to people on an individual level. This does not give the right to people for ridiculing the inability, or ability, of a person to speak a certain language. Everyone has their strengths. weaknesses, and niches, and it would do us good to remember that.