Sunday, May 06, 2007


This is quite an interesting thought from Stuart Jay Raj, a polyglot who has appeared on Thai television demonstrating his remarkable abilities.

My grandfather used to tell me “When you’re learning a language, you want to try your best to avoid having speakers of that language complimenting you. If people are complimenting you on how well you’re speaking ‘their’ language, it means that you still haven’t arrived”. That’s not to say that you want them insulting you! What he meant was that, if you’re speaking a language proficiently enough to a native speaker, the thought of complimenting you won’t even cross their mind.

This is somewhat unintuitive, but it makes a lot of sense to me.

I do think that there are exceptions. For example, I love to talk about language study and acquisition. At such times, I often compliment people who speak English as a second language with native or near-native proficiency and accent.

Mr. Raj alludes to another mitigating situation in the same post. In some cases, a speaker's physical features may make it unlikely that they are a native speaker. Obviously, this does not apply to ESL students, since native English speakers have all sorts of features. However, I would suspect that a farang speaking Thai with native proficiency could still expect curiosity and a few compliments.

In any case, I think this is great food for thought.


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