So let me tell you about something that annoys me in language classes.
Language skills are a good example of Bourdieu’s notion of cultural capital, or “non-financial social assets that promote social mobility beyond economic means.” Many people assume that fluency in another language is indicative of high intelligence, much like being good at math is basically synonymous with genius. Knowing another language certainly helps you get into better colleges and, as I’ve been told, is an asset on the job market.
These days, however, colleges have students learn a foreign language as part of the core requirements, so it’s not that impressive anymore. Even “traditional” western languages like French and Spanish seem passé next to “hip,” difficult languages like Japanese and Arabic. Studying a language isn’t enough anymore. There has to be something else to increase your amount of cultural capital.
In every language class I’ve taken, there is that one student who wrongly assumes that knowing some slang magically equates to thousands and thousands of language-dollars. By immediately displaying this “cultural capital,” the student basically says, “Look at how great I am! I know stuff that isn’t in the textbook–I’m more like a real native speaker than the rest of you dolts.”
More often than not, this display of self-congratulation is prefaced by saying, “I have a [boy]friend who is [from the country where the target language is spoken]. He told me that no one says [whatever stilted expression you just learned]. He and his friends always use [some slang expression]. Sometimes, this is followed-up by a humble-brag, like “I was just wondering what the difference is.”
This bothers me for two reasons:
First, people take language classes to learn the target language. Logically, this means that they will not sound like a native speaker right away–if ever. Stiff, formal greetings will usually serve them well when meeting native speakers. “Hello” is far, far more useful in a non-native speaker’s English vocabulary than “Sup?” It is also very likely that the student’s accent will forever mark him/her as a non-native speaker, so native speakers will make an allowance for somewhat awkward expressions and will even expect them. For example, can you imagine someone with a thick Chinese accent saying, “Hey, man! What is going on?” without contractions and with heavy accentuation of each syllable? Yeah, fail.
Second, WOW! Whoop dee-freakin’-doo! I am so impressed that you know a real, live native speaker…in the flesh! Oh, wait, I’m not. Whenever someone brings up his/her native speaker friend or significant other in introductory language classes, I just think to myself, “Why don’t you just study with your friend then and leave us alone?” I really don’t give a crap about my classmate’s exposure to a real native speaker, and since the rest of the class doesn’t have access to this resource, it’s a huge waste of time to mention it over and over and over again. This is not private one-on-one tutoring with the class instructor, so just shut your mouth and learn the regular expressions like everyone else.
This rant was perhaps prompted by an obnoxious undergrad (“that student”) in my class who thinks s/he is the best language-learner of all time. Since I am greatly motivated by spite, I plan to be the dark-horse and break his/her spirit around mid-semester.
Fiancé-friend and I have discussed this numerous times, but maybe we live in our own cynical world. Does/did this annoy you in language classes?