A KFC ad--here, the restaurant is called Ken De Ji Zha Ji
That's all well and good. I believe it's excellent to flourish where you're planted and that being a vagabond just for the fun of it isn't necessarily a desirable thing. Leaving your native country is not a necessary life experience--sure, it can be really cool, but I think you can have a very good life even if you never leave your native state.
However--now that I actually have moved to SouthEast China, where English is not widely spoken and I have learned the language--in fact, I've done precisely what those who use this argument as a complaint against immigrants with minimal English have claimed that they would do if they had to. I have a 4-year Bachelor's Degree in Mandarin Chinese. And let me tell you what this experience is like:
In ordering a meal at Burger King, I have to ask the guy at the cash register to please repeat what he asked me 3 times before the words click and I realize that yes, I do just want a burger and not the entire value meal.
I smile and nod and at a dinner banquet I can only keep up with the main subjects of the conversation, not the intricacies and fast back-and-forth replies, not enough to develop timely responses of my own.
I try to understand an ad at the grocery store or a menu without any pictures and I can perhaps understand 80% of the characters but not enough to have full understanding of everything I'm looking at. Show me a newspaper and my comprehension drops rapidly because my working vocabulary is very limited when it comes to matters such as international political policy.
I meet new friends, and sometimes they can't understand me no matter how many times I repeat myself, so I write out what I want to say, then they read it and smile and repeat back to me what I just said. In my ears it sounds identical to what I said, but apparently there's an important difference in tone that leaves my speaking incomprehensible.
Riding the bus is stressful. I can't relax, I have to keep my eyes and ears open for the sounds and characters that I memorized for the stop I need to get off at. The speakers on the bus garble the sounds of the names of stops and I constantly wonder if I missed where I was supposed to get off.
In conversations with people I talk about inane topics: the weather, the price of items, how to get from here to there, how long I've been in China, what my job is, about my family, where I'm from, whether the toilet in my hotel room is broken. Discussions on advanced topics of concern around the world and even jokes and humorous stories are largely beyond me, or are too much work to formulate, so I give up.
In school, I was taught standard Beijing pronunciation, while in SouthEast China, many people don't use standard Chinese pronunciation. Training my ear to recognize the same word through different accents results in many a, "Bu hao yi si, qing zai shuo yi ci?" (I'm sorry, but could you repeat that once more?)
When I'm with my husband, we speak English immediately, whether we're in our own home or walking down the sidewalk. Because my Chinese is much stronger than his, I often have to translate exchanges between him and whoever he is trying to communicate with. English isn't the language of our new home, but it's the language we have in common, that we can speak most intimately in, and I have no desire to give it up.
The funny thing is, I'm one of the privileged few. My experience of being an expat and trying to flourish in a country where my native language is not the language of choice is only comparable in the smallest of ways to the experience of being an English learner in the USA.
My native language is one of the most powerful and widely spoken languages on Earth. I actually have a college degree in the language of the country where I now live--I spent 4 years and thousands of dollars of my scholarship providers' money learning this language.
I pick up languages more easily than the average American. I was considered a "star student" by my Chinese profs. There are lots of books available for English-speaking learners of Chinese, and I have the time and resources to buy them and hire tutors at my very whim. My current work contract provides Chinese classes for me. My Mandarin is actually comparatively good--there is a lot that I do understand, a lot that I am able to communicate, but it's not fluent, and there are many holes where vocabulary ought to be.
And, actually, if I wanted to, I could nest myself into an expatriate bubble here in China and get away with learning very little Chinese at all--many expats do (Clearly, these are not the same people who say, "If I moved to another country, I would learn to speak that country's language" right? They couldn't be, could they?). No one would look down on me for doing this. I don't prefer to, I want to get more plugged into the local community than the expat community, but that's my preference and choice.
The lesson here is that not being a native or fluent speaker of the language of the country you live in is difficult. People look at you like you're an idiot when they ask you for the 3rd time if you want a bag or not at the grocery store. Actually, I'm smart. I'm funny. I can talk about all sorts of things, but when I'm not speaking in my native language, when I'm trying to read a language I'm not literate in...I don't seem very smart at all. In fact, I seem like my mental capacities are well below average. I can just imagine people thinking, "And this person is supposed to teach our children? She can't even understand what I'm saying!"
The menu at McDonald's
All this to say--I actually did it. I moved overseas. I spent years learning their language (because language learning is a constant and ongoing process, not something that can happen overnight). I have more language learning resources available to me than the vast majority of people...I absolutely love and enjoy speaking Chinese...and it's still really, really hard. Every single day I'm learning new words--by the end of the year I know my Mandarin will have improved immensely, but that doesn't necessarily help me today when I'm trying to understand the IT guy's speedy explanation of why I can't log onto the computer in my office at school.
So maybe, just maybe, that person who you can barely understand through their thick accent and broken English, or that family you overhear chattering away in their native tongue--maybe they are me, on the other side of the pond...and maybe, for my sake, you'll stop treating them like they're stupid. We can't accurately judge a person's intelligence or contribution to society by the state of their 2nd or 3rd language--because if you were to hand me a Mandarin newspaper right now, you'd think I were an illiterate idiot.
I appreciate immensely the fact that the Chinese people I meet don't tell me to "Go Home!" when I stumble awkwardly through my requests for garlic powder at the grocery store...I only wish that more Americans were so kind.