If you talk pretty, you can say almost anything you like

 

photoA print out of this quote hangs in one of my classrooms: Good English, well spoken and well written, will open more doors than a college degree. Bad English will slam doors you didn’t even know existed.

It’s a great quote, but behind it lies something sinister.

When people talk pretty, we lap it up.

I’ve just finished watching Q and A, a live political question and answer show broadcast here in Australia. An African-American man was on tonight who spoke like a poet with a bluesy lilt and flawless rhythm. The audience lapped it up. I loved him… he was on point as my teenagers would say, but did we really know what he was saying? I sure didn’t.

If you can talk pretty people will follow you…

(Russel Brand)

… wherever you go…

(Adolf Hitler)

…Beware the power of the great orator

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I’m Not as Dumb as I Sound

morning paper: photo credit stock.xchng

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.