Updated: Jul 29, 2020
I was a teenager at the time, not that I am making excuses for what I did, just establishing a time frame and mindset associated with that age. My mom, a non-native English speaker, was struggling to say a specific word in English. After she tried a few times, I mimicked her while giggling uncontrollably. She broke down into tears. I felt like the worst person in the world. I did the only thing that came to mind - I ran up to her and hugged her, apologising profusely. Being a mother, I am sure she forgave me on the spot while I probably haven't forgiven myself yet - it still hurts to tell this story.
So why am I sharing this story? A few reasons come to mind. There are many young children out there who are trying to learn their mother tongue which is a non-native language to them. Often, they are mimicked, laughed at and made fun of under the guise of "their accent and mistakes are so cute". Here's the thing, if you see a cute dog, do you mimic it, do you make fun of it and laugh at it? I am guessing the answer is no. So, my question is - why do this to someone who is trying to learn a language that is unfamiliar to them? What is supposed to be "cute" about their mistakes or the accent they speak with? At least they are trying, isn't this supposed to matter more? Yes the language they are trying to learn is supposed to be their mother tongue but circumstances chose otherwise for them.
Many years ago, I started to learn what would have become my 5th language. A family member laughed at a grammatical error I made, laughed pretty hard at it too. That was enough to discourage me from ever learning that language. Imagine the impact that one act had on me, as an adult, what impact would something like that have on a child?
Learning a new language is terrifying! What is the best way to respond when the learner makes a mistake or two? Respond with the words, "It is okay. This is hard and you are doing amazing!" Imagine the impact this would have on them. Here's the thing, you don't need words or language to communicate. The love, care, compassion and kindness you have towards another human being will show in your eyes, in your smile, in your encouraging thumbs up and in your actions towards them. No one can perceive this better than children can, something to think about the next time you think it is okay or "cute" to laugh at a person's accent and mistakes while they try to speak in a language that is unfamiliar to them.