Think about, for example, how many Japanese speakers of English get looked upon unfavourably for their English, and […] never receive any praise for being speakers of English, whereas think about how many white people who live in Japan and learn Japanese are adored, admired, praised for their ability to speak Japanese.
But if you think about it, English and Japanese, it’s the same pair of languages, the same distance, the same difficulty in learning it, right?
But if a Japanese person speaks English, they will never get any admiration for it, and often will get, actually evaluated negatively: oh yeah, but their English is not so good yet.
But if it’s the person who has learnt Japanese from an English background, they get all kinds of praise and support and self-affirmation out of it.
So that’s a form of oppression going both ways: privilege in one, and oppression in the other.
Lourdes Ortega, interviewed on the TEFLology podcast
This is something I’ve found annoying in the past: it’s lovely to be praised for my own language learning, but when I praise people back: your English is just as good as my Polish or better, they say “But Polish is so hard!”
It’s no harder than English for a Polish learner: all languages are easy and all are difficult. It’s a question of motivation, and while distances between them may help or hinder learning at different stages of the process, if you speak the same pair of languages, you should be equally proud of your ability to speak them, and you should be praised equally.
The things we say to language learners have a real impact!