Saturday, April 21, 2007

About Language Learning and Identity

"It's like learning a language; you can't speak a language fluently until you find out who you are in that language, and that has as much to do with your body as it does with vocabulary and grammar." Fred Frith

Much has been said about the different intonation, tone of voice, pose or attitudes we have when speaking a foreign language. It’s not uncommon to see people who are reluctant to utter a single word in a foreign language or that just can’t learn it either because they harbor a negative attitude towards that language or culture or just because they are not connected to it in any way. Even when it doesn’t mean that we embrace or completely agree with every aspect of the target culture, if we’ve gotten so far, there must be something- a place, an idea, an image - we feel identified with, something we wish to achieve or we want to recover when we speak English.

In my case, I first went to the States when I was a little girl and even attended kindergarten there for some time. I remember I cried every single day at school. I cried when I waved my mom good-bye, when we sang the anthem, when other kids wouldn’t play with me. Every morning, the teacher would ask “Is everybody here?” and I simply cried because I couldn’t understand. I got the noise, the sounds of the language, but I couldn’t figure out the meaning of those words until, suddenly, one morning, it just happened: “everybody” referred to “all of us”, all the students in the class. An insight. Sheer epiphany. A moment of discovery. That’s how I picked up the language and made sense of the world around me at the time.

Many years have passed by; years of formal language instruction at ARICANA, at school, at teacher training college, and some things have remained instinctive, playfully accurate, awkwardly natural. I think I am still that little girl trying to find her way back home, to discover the wwworld around her, and to invite others to explore it with her.

Now, the big question arises:
Who are you when you speak another language?


  1. It's interesting that I was pretty much like you have described, but in my city and in my language. All the children seem to know each other and I felt like the foreign one. I didn´t like or understand football and I spent my day watching TVinstead of playing, so I didn´t have much to talk about or anyone to talk with. This still happens a lot to me. So I try to learn a little about everything that interests me not only because many things interest me, but also to have something to talk about with people.
    I still hate football and everything that's as massive and popular and useless, like most of what's on our TV nowadays, because besides being useless stuff, you get left aside if you don't like it.
    I'm glad in our course we discuss important issues like the ozone layer, space, zoos, etc, instead of the last night TV show or the next football match.

  2. Awesome story Carla, I think languages do have an impact on personalities, specially considering the way you learn them.

    In my case, I am a whole different person when I speak English. I don't know exactly why this happens, but I prefer English over Spanish anytime.

    BTW, I didn't tell you and probably shouldn't, but before joining this course I didn't think much of english teachers in Rosario, so you've raised the bar in tremendous style.

    I agree with Maxi on mainstream media's effect, I think it's like a direct connection that sends mediocre content to the brain. The sewer that feeds our thinking with poop... lol, I happen to get on these funny rants since I met Vanina... she's the one to blame!


  3. Maxi,
    I also find it difficult to find like-minded people to talk with, but let's not be fooled by appearances. Authentic communication and deep connections to others are hard to achieve and maintain. Are we so different or are we inside "the Matrix"? Are we looking at the world or its reflection through the media? It takes real courage to stand up for ourselves and the things we believe in, but,in the end, it always pays off.

    As Robert Frost said in The Road Not Taken:
    "Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
    I took the one less traveled by,
    And that has made all the difference."

    I also enjoy the topics we discuss in class, especially because of the great insight you all provide.


  4. Mariano,

    Thanks a lot for your compliment.

    I can see you have a very strong and natural connection to English and that's probably why earlier academic experiences did not meet your expectations. I'm really glad you joined us and I'm also delighted to know that you already get along with other classmates.

    See you next class...

  5. This blog is getting interesting.... congrats Carla!!!
    I knew you were conected to The States in some way... Your english is awesome, It's a pleasure to have such a great teacher... thnx for giving your best every class.

    I have so much to say and so many stories to tell about this topic. So I will do it through this year.

    some of my swedish friends always tell me that they preffer inglish over swedish cause they say that english has more expressions and words so they feel they can express their thoughts and feelings much better, and also cause english sounds sweeter and nicer than swedish. So Mariano don't feel like a freak it does happen to others...hahaha.

    Maxi, Mariano and Carla I hope we can meet up for Big brother's finale next month.... BTW who left the house last week?


    I couldn't up load a picture to my profile yet... HELPPPP


  6. Yes, I agree, English sounds better. Maybe because it has more different sounds than Spanish. the same group of letters is pronounced differently in different words, and the sounds are more musicals, if that´s the right word. Try to say "music" and "música", wich one sounds better?
    However, this kind of things made it harder for me when I was learning to speak in English. I didn´t know how to pronounce a word until I've heard it. Reading it was not enough. In Spanish theres almost always one and only one way to pronounce a group of letters and only one way to write a sound.

  7. Regarding who we are when we speak a foreign language, it's true we change. I've noticed shy people becoming disinhibited, as well as the opposite. I think it's like chatting on the net, when others don't really see you. When you change your language you can change the "mask" you put on and show to others. In a classroom you can become part of a group you probably wouldn't have in other circumstances. When it happens as part of your personal or professional life, you are able to do smething most people don't: speak a different language. That gives you the opportunity to change your "mask" at least a little.

  8. Maxi i completly agree with u, u couldn't say it better... about the language and the mask. I have a problem.... I can't picture your face with your name, I'm sorry I'm such a bad classmate but I'm very baad at names...

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