Anyone who has studied a foreign language and then traveled to that country can probably relate to that vulnerable, humbling feeling you get when you discover that your lack of ability to communicate makes you sound stupid.
I remember on my first trip to Germany, sitting with my host and a few of her friends, playing a board game. I think it was Pictionary, and they were all encouraging me to play, but my language was limited and I didn’t know half of the words we were playing with.
I clearly remember wanting to tell them, as I haltingly communicated in basic, broken sentences, “I’m actually not stupid! I do speak a language fluently and I am capable of intelligent conversation!” Instead I was relegated to child-like speech and exaggerated facial expressions.
I learned a big lesson that day, and one I’m ashamed to admit that I had to learn by experience:
Just because people don’t speak my language doesn’t mean they’re stupid.
I think there is far too much arrogant, English ‘monolingualism’ in this world. A person could speak five languages fluently, but sadly too often, in my country, if their English isn’t good, they’re quickly relegated to the ‘stupid bin.’
Intelligence goes far beyond communication, so let’s give our tourists, our immigrants and our exchange students a fair go. Their English might not be fluent yet, but there’s a good chance they’re smarter than we are.