Maybe it’s just me and Polish, but…
When you already speak a second language, like I do, and you’ve spoken it for a long-ass time, like I have, you forget how difficult it is to learn a new language. Every language has it’s weird grammar and quirks and impossible pronunciations. As you start a new language, you think, Hmmm, well, this is difficult, but once I get the hang of the basic rules it won’t be so bad.
Then you’re at the gym, or the supermarket, or the train station, and you try to say something only to realize there are a million little words you don’t remember (or don’t know), and even if you kinda remember the rules for conjugating verbs, it does you no good because the key word in this sentence is ‘already’, and you don’t know how to say ‘already’. Or what is the proper preposition for “to”? How do you say ‘very’ again? And how do you say ‘again’?
Even at the beginning of college, when my Spanish grammar was terrible, I still had the advantage of 15 years of vocabulary already tucked away in my mind. People would ask what a word meant and 60% of the time I just knew, without even thinking. In Polish, there are so many words I just don’t know, or can’t pronounce. So putting aside my terrible grammar, I still can’t communicate what I want to say.
Luckily in Poland, most people are happy that you’re even trying to learn Polish, because they know it’s not the most useful language in the world. The only people who’ll give you shit for it are probably PiS (far-right political party) supporters who usually only express outrage if you’re a non-white immigrant, and of course this one lady at the immigration office who asked my boss, “Why did you hire them if they can’t even speak Polish?” (yeah, she said it in Polish, but I understood) to which my boss replies, “Because I run an English school…?” So yeah, except for that salty lady works at the immigration office and doesn’t speak any languages other than Polish so maybe she should shut the hell up, everyone is pretty nice and patient when trying to talk to me.
But that’s the way it is, isn’t it? Xenophobes who only speak one language are usually the ones complaining about immigrants not speaking their language the loudest. People who’ve never lived in a country where they don’t speak the language think that you can easily acquire fluency by taking 3 hours of class a week. Hahaha, if only. Especially in the US, white Americans look down on immigrants (especially poor immigrants) and complain that they aren’t even trying to learn English, as though this is proof of their inherent worthlessness as human beings. As though they actually have any fucking clue what is going on in these people’s lives, or in their heads. Because it’s hard to learn a new language with resources and time, much less without resources or time.
So my point is not that you should feel sorry for me, here in Poland with my terrible Slavic skills. My point is that you should think about the people you meet, and how when you hear their accents, that means they’ve learned another language, and that’s something that’s very difficult to do. And if they can’t speak English, or whatever the language of your native country is, remember how it’s easy to pontificate about what people should do when you don’t have to do it yourself.