From 1-30-16 – Have you ever walked into a store or a restaurant here or in a foreign country and immediately noticed an error in English on a sign or a menu? It just might be odd or funny. What do you do? After you smile, do you say something to the owner to correct the error, or do you leave it so that the next person will see the same thing that you saw? When I was sent this picture on Facebook, it first brought a smile to my face. And yet, when I started to read the reactions to the picture filled with hysterical laughter and ridicule, I thought, “How smug.”
I wondered how many people who forwarded this sign on Facebook can speak a second language reasonably well. (And not just to order food.) Americans are not well-known for their foreign language abilities. It is easy to ridicule the language errors of others when we have no experience of truly living in a foreign country with a second language (or having to do business in a foreign language). English is an international language and is now spoken by more people as a second language than as a first. People go out of their way to learn it, and it ain’t easy.
The owners of the store where the picture was taken were probably sick of foreign shoppers coming into their store and man-handling their merchandise. Such signs in flawed English can be seen all over the world. My question is: once the person snapped the photo, did s/he go over to the owner and point out the mistake so that it could be changed? Or did s/he leave it so that more people could get a kick out of the unintended meaning of the sign? Is it so hard to put yourself in the place of the owner and see it from his/her point of view? What would s/he have preferred?
I witness each day the struggle of ESL students trying to master English. I say master because they are not learning the language to travel around a bit and buy souvenirs and order at restaurants. Their goal is to study at an American university, and for that, they need academic English. In a country growing more and more anti-immigrant, anti-foreigner, you hear people say of the foreigner, “Why don’t they learn English?” Well, these students ARE learning English, and whether they master it is up for grabs. (Research shows that it takes 7 years of English instruction for a student to acquire academic English.) ESL students are always complaining about how hard it is for them to make American friends. When some ESL students report using English only 30 minutes a day outside of class, I wonder what progress they can make. I doubt that being made fun of will further their acquisition of English.