Backhanded compliment?

Jeremy and I both spoke in our church meeting today. I gave the opening pleasantries in both English and Arabic, and then made use of our excellent interpreter, Max. Jeremy, on the other hand, gave his own talk in both English and Arabic. Rater than doing it consecutively, as Max does, he alternated speaking in each language for several minutes at a time.

This is really harder than you might think. Not only do you have to be able to speak both languages, you have to keep track of what you’re saying in each so that you don’t leave anything out. In all, he spoke for about 20 minutes. I was very impressed with his linguistic skills (and also, of course, his message).

Immediately after the meeting ended, Jeremy was approached by a Jordanian/Armenian member of our branch. He did not offer compliments on Jeremy’s talk as is customary to do. Rather, the first words out of his mouth (in Arabic) were, “You made two mistakes. One of them was a very big one.” He then proceeded to tell Jeremy what these mistakes were (as far as I could understand, they were both issues of pronunciation).

I told Jeremy to take that as a compliment. If he had made too many mistakes to count, this man wouldn’t have bothered informing him of his errors. So he really must have done pretty well to have only two mistakes worth pointing out.

Maybe that should be a new goal: to speak so well that people don’t falsely compliment but boldly – yet constructively – criticize.

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