Friday, 30 October 2015

The Amazing Race 27, Episode 6

Victoria Falls (Zimbabwe) - Livingstone (Zambia) - Paris (France) - La Ferté-Alais - Paris (France)

In this episode of The Amazing Race 27 in France, the racers had two different tasks, each of which required them to repeat phrases that they had read and/or heard spoken in French. They didn't have to understand the meaning of what they were saying, and in only one of the two tasks were they judged at all on their pronunciation.

As I've said many times before (one, two, three, four), an important skill in The Amazing Race and in real-world travel around the world is the ability to repeat what you have heard, or to sound out what you have read, in a foreign language, even if you don't understand what you are saying.

It was obvious that none of the racers had learned any French, and the French people to whom they needed to recite what they had heard or read appeared to be struggling to avoid laughing at their pronunciation. In the privacy of my home, I was laughing too. I wouldn't have wanted to be a monolingual Francophone tested on my ability to understand what the racers were trying to say in their fractured French!

But you shouldn't let fear of failing to communicate or fear of looking foolish deter you from trying to learn a new language, or trying to use a language in which you aren't (and maybe never will be) fluent or confident. In real life, people are more likely to laugh with you than at you if you try to speak their language. Most people will go to great lengths to try to understand you.

Inherent in any attempt to communicate is a risk, indeed a likelihood, of miscommunicating, sometimes innocuously but sometimes in ways that are embarrassing or even offensive.

That's why the most important prerequisite to language proficiency is not aptitude but courage: the courage to make mistakes and appear foolish in front of others.

People with the courage to look like idiots by trying to speak foreign languages they speak badly should be -- and usually are -- congratulated for their courage and effort, not put down.

Seth Davidson is a bicycle racer and attorney best known for his blog about cycling in Southern California. But he also lived in Japan for a decade and Germany for a year, claims fluency in Japanese and German, and is learning Chinese. He got it exactly right, I think, in his commentary (worth reading in its entirety) about Mark Zuckerberg's public speeches in China in Mandarin:

Zuckerberg may have looked and sounded foolish at times, but you know what? He also looked incredibly nervous and exposed and vulnerable. It was the most intimate view of him you"ll ever have. You could even say that he pissed away all his privacy protections in a pair of twenty-minute videos. He was up there naked. Anyone who"s tried to fumble a few phrases of French to an impatient Parisian waiter knows that when you"re speaking their language YOU"RE ON THEIR TURF.

You think public speaking is hard? Try it in a foreign language that you"re not very good at in front of a global audience....

He"s put himself out there, arrogant, self-satisfied, and shrewdly manipulative perhaps, but he"s clearly doing the hard work that it takes to speak a foreign language,.... -- and he"s offering himself up to a billion Chinese critics, each one of whom is supremely qualified to tear his language skills apart.

The beauty of it is, of course, that they don't. People appreciate it when you make the effort, and they respect the hell out of the courage it takes to speak in public in a foreign language. Mark may scramble his tones, but the only message he really cares about is coming across loud and clear: YOU MATTER TO ME.

Hats off to the sorry-assed scoundrel. In this regard at least, I wish him the very best, and hope that more Americans in every walk of life follow his lead.

(Something to love about Mark Zuckerberg. Finally. By Seth Davidson, Cycling in the South Bay, 29 October 2015)

Link | Posted by Edward on Friday, 30 October 2015, 23:59 (11:59 PM) | TrackBack (0)
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