In English, I rarely if ever used a word in the wrong way. I was a serious reader very early and had a big passive vocabulary. By passive, I mean I knew a lot of words, but had never used them in conversation. I know what they meant and how to spell them, but not how they sounded.
I had no idea that Too-son and Tucson were the same place. Or that ep-ee-TOME was epitome. I remember those two examples well because of the extreme amusement they caused around me. I was all of 8-years-old. Adults weren’t as nice to kids back then as they are now.
I was much more entertaining in Israel. I am sure that my fumbling attempts to learn the language, having caused extreme hilarity, probably played a part in my never actually learning Hebrew.
My first big discovery — very early in my life in Jerusalem — was that Zion (Zy-un) means penis. Properly in Hebrew, it’s tzee-own. So if you say (fondly) that Israel is the Land of Zion, using your good American pronunciation, you will reduce Israelis within earshot to tears of laughter. They can be a rough crowd.
To add another layer of problems over the difficulty in just getting the words out through my teeth which were clearly not designed for all those gutturals, many words in Hebrew are very much like one another, yet have hugely different meanings. Sha-ah is an hour. Shan-nah is a year. So there you are saying “My Hebrew isn’t all that good, I’ve only been here for two hours.”
After a while, I mostly spoke English and used Hebrew words as needed when I could fine no English equivalent. Eventually, I came home to where almost everyone could be expected to understand most of what I said. Without laughing at me.
You might ponder this when you meet immigrants who are trying to learn English. I mention this only because, having been on the other side of this experience, a little kindness to people trying to work through a difficult life transition while learning a new language (and culture) can go a long way to make them feel less lonely, threatened, excluded, and generally miserable. Just a thought.