Can a non-native speaker pass for one?
The answer is PROBABLY "no"!
But let’s see what the word “PROBABLY” stands for, if it were an acronym of some sort!
As a recipe for success in this painstaking endeavor, regardless of the order in which they are to be prioritized, PROBABLY stands for: Perseverance, Regularity, Open-mindedness, Bravery, Acting, Biexistence, Labor.
Now let’s try and give each its due priority.
The first and also the most important requirement is Open-mindedness.
In order for one to master a foreign language, he or she has to be absolutely open to a few, albeit controversial, facts.
We do not know “for a fact” whether we have been created by God or evolved. (This is extremely crucial to establish when one makes the decision to learn a foreign language – not merely to communicate, but to transcend that level and reach perfect simulation.) One’s belief in Creation, however, will eventually affect their attitude towards “Existence” – which I will elaborate on later – and cause them to subscribe to the notion of mankind’s superiority over other creatures and, as history has vividly revealed, the superiority of one group of mankind over the other, which is utterly counterproductive when the learner tries to simulate the target language. For, when a learner wants to emulate all the aspects of “their” existence within the target language, they are either prone to look “up” to that group of people whose language is to be imitated, or look “down” upon them. Either way, the learner is highly unlikely to reach perfect simulation unless they remain as neutral towards the target society and culture as possible. The slightest bias or prejudice towards one’s “own” culture will manifest itself as mistakes or to say the least, incongruities down the road, when one attempts to perform the target language.
If I think I am better than you, I will mispronounce your name – out of disrespect for you, your culture and your language – and if the reverse is the case, I am very likely to sound sycophantically phony, both to native speakers and my own fellow countrymen!
The fear of being judged by one’s own people when speaking a foreign language is tantamount to feeling like an outcast or simply a convert, which results in mediocre performance.
As I pointed out at the beginning, since we do not know for a fact who we are, it would not matter who we become. Since I could have been born somewhere else and become a different person, I am already, of course “potentially” someone else. I am as much the person I am as I could be or become someone else. My own culture, religion, beliefs and values may be totally different from that of a person whose language I want to master, but if I could step beyond my existence, I would be able to enter the realm of Biexistence.
Biexistence has got every single thing to do with one’s detachment from whatever he or she is; to accept the fact that what separates us from other nations is nothing but geography. All children, all over the world, learn to talk in quite the same manner.
In order to be able to let a new existence in, one doesn’t have to push their own existence out; actually it is impossible. The trick is to “suspend” one’s own existence, so as to make room for the new experience. Whatever is new to us could also be scary. So, the learner requires Bravery. Because, at first foreign languages make us different. It feels like a new person is emerging. This new person has a new name, new feelings, new ideas and it is bound to clash with the person still residing inside us. It would be foolish to say one has become a new person merely because he or she has made some foreign utterances. If your name is Mohammad, you can’t become Steve by saying “My name is Steve!” When you utter these words, you are only Acting as if you were Steve. And with Acting comes “Stage Fright”, which I have to overcome by announcing to my own people as to what I am doing. The people around me are required to “suspend their disbelief” and at least temporarily accept me as Steve, so that I can conquer my Global Stage Fright and say more words, phrases and sentences.
Assuring my own people and myself of the fact that I am merely Acting as a new person is of critical importance. So, if there is somebody out there, say, a friend, a sibling, a parent or anyone else for that matter, who does not approve of your decision as to learn a foreign language, you definitely need to go to them and ask for their permission, otherwise that person will turn into a ticking time bomb, which will definitely go off at the most vital moment of your performance. This circle of people, who all reside within us, will become wider and wider as you go along and encompass the whole nation you belong to. Remember that, in some cultures, speaking a foreign language, specially immaculately is still frowned-upon at a collective subconscious level. Being mocked, criticized and – ideally corrected – is inevitable and requires you to show Perseverance. Of course, there will be a crucial point at which you must resort to ignoring the mocking crowd and move on.
Moving on and actually becoming a native speaker may take a long time, sometimes even a lifetime and sadly enough, it is quite possible to actually not happen at all, whereas making the decision to do so often takes place quite spontaneously. One can liken this experience to an actor’s debut. It’s an all-of-sudden-like moment. It feels like a sudden fusion of whatever turns an ordinary performer into a brilliant one. That’s what I meant by Labor. The speaker gives birth to a second person, who doesn’t move, but is moved like a puppet by the real person – the puppeteer. When the birth happens, a Pinocchio-like entity comes into existence; quite awkward in movement (performance) and certainly devoid of ease and necessary grace of an actor. However, at this point, the "blooming" has come about. From this point onwards, Regularity defines the scene. The robotic moves gradually become effortless and full simulation appears in an erratic way, but gradually, provided there is Regularity in practice, those great moments grow in a quantitative fashion and accumulate until they metrically cover almost all the moments of a particular performance. Then, as time goes by, those bright moments outnumber the flawed ones and eventually radiate an “illusion” by which the puppeteer can “fool” an audience into belief, awe and admiration. Nevertheless, the mission is not accomplished yet; both the puppet and the puppeteer can still be seen. This is where admiration on the part of all the audience backfires at the master. Somebody has to disappear; either the puppet or the master!
Which one is capable of doing this? The puppet intrinsically does not possess the will to be free from the strings it is attached to, and the master cannot order the puppet to stop, because that would mean aborting the whole mission / performance altogether. Let’s just say, hypothetically speaking, just for the sake of argument, Pinocchio is now the epitome of a native speaker; what should we do with Geppetto?! We can still see him, can’t we?
At this point of time, the ball is in the audience’s court; a horrible trade-off for Geppetto! He sings his swan song, bows out and leaves the scene gracefully with the illusion of having accomplished the mission with or without a standing ovation from the audience – it does not matter because a life-time has been wasted to reinvent the wheel. Or the “show” goes on “till death them do part!”
Who knows?! Maybe it is a paradox one has to live with!
P.S. This we know for a fact; the letter “Y” in the word “PROBABLY” could stand for either “Yes” or “Yuck”!
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