As I got sucked in by Quora again the other night, I came across a post about someone not knowing how to handle their new love’s improper English. I could relate to it, so I figured I’d write something about my experiences with language and my girlfriend. Here’s what I ended up replying:
I come from a very literate (in my native tongue) family, and I understand my language very well. Me and my family always joke and make fun of each other when someone says something wrong, because we think the involuntary picture that the words paint is funny. My girlfriend since six years back has a very different approach to language. Subtle differences in grammar isn’t something she picks up on in the same way – I’m sure she could if she practiced it, but for her language is all about getting a message across, and I as a listener am supposed to help out.
For the first few years of our relationship, she always used to tell me to “just listen to what she says, not how she says it”. It was hard for me to do it at first, because I think there is a lot of function in the nuances of language, so when she says something using incorrect grammar, she’s saying something other than what she intends to. As I’ve been trying hard to do it more and more though, it has helped me in many parts of my life. Not judging people by how they speak is helping me see beauty and intelligence in the minds of people I might otherwise not have. A lot of people lack either will or education to speak properly. That doesn’t mean they lack intelligence, insight or wisdom. They’re just not caught up by the same things that you are.
Early on I had to focus very hard on not reacting when things went wrong linguistically. The practice, however, is not about not noticing, it’s about not reacting, and that’s all a matter of habits. By retraining myself, I haven’t unlearned my language at all, I’ve only expanded it. I still notice every little grammatical error my girlfriend makes, but it doesn’t upset or trigger me anymore unless I want it to. I’ve learned to choose what to prioritize when listening, and I think my language has improved because of it. Being able to relax as someone rips my beloved grammar apart is empowering, because I get to see the person behind the words. There is so much wisdom in the least expected of places. My suggestion is to practice that skill. It will never cease to be useful – no one dislikes when you listen to what they say rather than how they say it.
Now I’d like to add to this that this last paragraph makes it sound like my girlfriend can’t speak properly whatsoever, but that’s absolutely not the case. The parts about ripping my beloved grammar apart isn’t aimed at her specifically. Either way, I’m very happy to have acquired this skill. It really does add value to my life.