I took a break from work today to head down to the tennis courts and watch TRC in his last tennis lesson. We signed him up for tennis this summer, mainly because it was one block of lessons that didn’t start until after we got back from Europe. He’s been looking forward to it ever since, and he really enjoyed the experience.
(Full disclosure: I’m not exactly pro-team-sports. I was a band and drama geek in school. I had few friends who were on a high school team, and most of what I saw of the team sports players didn’t exactly leave me with a favorable impression. Thus, as an adult, I tend to want to steer TRC away from football, soccer, baseball, and basketball. I’ve since met some people who played team sports in high school and emerged as good, nice, quality individuals in the process (even if they are Red Sox fans), but on the whole, I don’t really relish the idea of TRC going whole hog into team sports. I played little league for one miserable season, and I’ve successfully managed to block that memory (more or less). Why would I do it to my son? That said, if TRC ever expressed a heartfelt desire to play team sports, I would let him. I’m not going to force my personal biases on him. But if I can nudge him away from something that I think could prove problematic for him later in life, I will–whether or not other people agree with me. It’s the same thing with skateboarding. He’s expressed desire for a skateboard. I doubt I’ll buy him one. I’m raising a geek, not a skater.)
Anyway, it was fun to watch TRC have such a great time playing tennis, or trying to at least. There were only three other kids there, and they would take turns trying to hit the balls the teacher was lobbing their way. Out of fifteen or so sent his way, he probably connected with 7 of them, and got 3 of them over the net. The great thing? He didn’t care. He was just out there playing and having a good time. Enjoying the experience of learning something new. Doing something different.
That’s something I think we forget how to do–at least most of us. How many experiences do I pass up because I don’t want to look stupid or foolish? Take speaking German, for example. It’s been 12 years, but I can still talk quite well when I want to. I forget the genders of some nouns, and formal and informal speech trips me up, but as long as I don’t worry about it, I do fine. Until I’m faced with a real live German, and all my German ability flies out the window. I’m worried I’ll sound stupid or make mistakes, and so I morph into a wallflower, instead.
The same thing’s true with Slovak, of course–only worse. Talking to a stranger in Slovak? Forget about it.
Which leads me to another thought. So often as native speakers, it’s easy to dismiss non-native speakers as ignorant or stupid. After all, if they were smart, they’d speak English, right? I know I’ve encountered that mindset a lot, particularly when I was in Utah and talking to some of Denisa’s ESL speakers. These were bright, talented people, who were lucky if they could get a fair shot at a decent job. The bias and sentiment against them was too strong.
Folks, I’m a fairly well-read, intelligent person (or at least I’d like to think so). I can go on for pages and pages on a blog, and I can talk your ear off on any number of subjects. But get me in a foreign country, speaking a language I don’t have full control of, and I turn into a different person. Timid. Hesitant. Willing to make the lamest jokes–and laugh at them myself.
I guess I’d rather appear mute and shy than stupid.
My point is this. Part of the problem is mine: I need to be more willing to stick my neck out. To be like TRC and throw myself into the experience. Forget about what other people think. And at the same time, part of the problem is other people’s: we need to avoid making judgement calls about a person based solely on their command of a language. People who haven’t spoken a second language have a hard time understanding that. (It’s also one of the many reasons why I’m continually amazed by my wife and her ability to do everything she does–in a second language. Crazy.)
Anyway. That’s all I have time for today. And all of that was inspired by watching one seven year old do his best to hit a few tennis balls. Good job, TRC. I’m proud of you.