making friends in a second language
August 16, 2012 6:52 AM Subscribe
Making friends in a second language: Can you explain to me why it doesn't matter?
posted by colfax to Human Relations (52 answers total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
I am an American living in Germany and although I'm getting relatively good at the language, I still make all sorts of mistakes. My sentences still get jumbled sometimes, I still have to resort to gesturing periodically, and every time I try to explain or describe something, all I can see are how many words I'm still missing in German. And when people talk to me too fast or use non-basic vocabulary, I still miss things sometimes. And yet, I've somehow managed to make good friends here: smart, articulate people who are frequently hilarious and incredibly kind. These friends are also German, and German is our main language of conversation.
At some very basic level though, I don't understand why they want to be friends with me, and why all of my mistakes in their language don't seem to bother them. I feel like it must be so much more work to communicate with me than with their fellow Germans. And we're living in a pretty big city, so it's not like my friends don't have other opportunities to talk to other native speakers: people who don't have to continually pause in the middle of their sentences to ask how you say "humbug" or "fork" or "solidarity" in German. Most of those other native speakers probably don't mangle articles or violently mispronounce words very often either.
So if you have people in your life--good friends, casual friends, significant others--who are not native speakers of your language, can you explain to me why it doesn't matter to you that they can't speak your language perfectly? The thing is, I have had friends myself who were immigrants and didn't speak English perfectly, and that never bothered me, but I can't seem to extrapolate from that to my own current experience. I think hearing other people's stories might help.