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of Catalonia, near the border to France and Andorra. I grew up in a farm, our village had no more than 500 inhabitants and the biggest city was Berga with 15,000 inhabitants, where I moved at the age of 7. Even the fact that Catalan had been forbidden and hundreds of people had been executed by a firing squad because of speaking it, people in the area had a strong preservation sense of their idiosyncrasy. Probably the isolation of the mountains gave them a chance to save their language and culture from destruction. In this situation, Catalan, the local language spoken within the community, has to be regarded as the low variety and, Spanish, spoken in the media, as the high one. The area was mainly agricultural with few industries and received lots of immigrant workers from the rest of Spain, which is the case of my father. All this host of circumstances explains why I became bilingual. In other words, I learned my two mother tongues or L1 languages, Catalan and Spanish, before the age of 3 yet, the dominant one is Catalan.
In 1975, with the transition into the democracy the socio-political situation changed for better and, soon, the government gave a major boost for Catalan through immersion school programs which led to real bilingualism in the following years. As a result, when I first started school at the age of 5 I was taught to read and write in Spanish. Nevertheless, at the age of 7 I changed school and due to all the political investment in language I started being taught in Catalan and studying Spanish as a subject.
However, I realized that my multilingual career began even before I started to study any foreign language (Todeva, 2009:75) as I grew up with two dialects of Catalan, the regional one and the Standard one taught at school, and Spanish. This proved to be advantageous for my further language learning and perhaps also explains why I find Romance languages easily accessible, an ease mostly attributable to cognates.
As Cummins already noticed natural bilinguals find it easier to learn additional languages than monolinguals.
Finally, I would like to acknowledge that I am re-working on an essay submitted on January 2012 for the module ‘Multilingualism and Multiculturalism to Professor JeanMarc Dewaele, to whom I am very grateful for sharing his knowledge and passion for languages. HOW DID I CHOOSE MY LANGUAGES OR HOW DID SOME LANGUAGES CHOOSED ME Apart from my two mother tongues I learned two other strong languages and some others at different levels. That is to say, as approved by The Council of Europe, I am a multilingual with diverse levels of linguistic competence and performance in several languages. Conversely, during many years whenever asked how many languages I spoke, I found the question difficult to answer. (Todeva, 2009:34). As Dewale (2010:5) drew our attention to, Cook observed that in SLA, L2 users’ performance was almost always compared with that of NS but this monolingual bias has been strongly criticised, as indeed LX users should not be considered as deficient users of a language.
Some languages come out by choice: French, English, Italian and German; some others developed as a compulsory school subject: French, English and Latin; and some by chance: Greek and German. Not to mention all the languages you get in contact with when travelling or living in London and, from which, I have always tried to learn a few basic vocabulary and survival sentences. I am as ambitious as circumstances permit. Probably, my most linguistic frustration experience was when visiting Japan as although I managed to learn a few basic structures and words, I could not read a single letter; to me, all traffic sings and labels looked like a computer microchip.
CATALAN AND SPANISH
Apart from acquiring them in a naturalistic setting, I learned them. Teachers insisted a lot on grammar. Moreover I was also asked to memorize poems, texts, etc. which I could learn for the recitation or the exam and then forget; I am a pragmatic learner.
Let me underline that the fact that Catalan and Castilian being so similar languages in some cases helps, in other cases it is confusing. For instance, the word “why” is written, in both languages, with two words that can be written together or separated and take or not a written accent; I recognize I need to keep it written somewhere.
My love affair with languages started with French at the age of 8 when my parents decided I joined a languages school. It was my first real L2. French was prominent given the fact that the French border was close. Crossing the French border was popular for skiing and crossing the border to Andorra for shopping. In addition, at the age of 9 I also started studying French as part of the school syllabus.
Despite the fact that the style of the lessons was the audio-lingual method popular at the moment, we were also required to learn grammar, write a lot, memorize vocabulary lists and we were exposed to real authentic material. The opportunity to actively use French was very limited, however.
My acquisition of French was probably enhanced by the similarities with Catalan and Spanish and by the motivation that I had relatives in Paris. Since the age of 11, my family decided I was going to spend one month of my summer holidays in Paris. Nonetheless, probably due to shyness, lack of confidence and that they all spoke some Spanish I started talking to them in that language and still now I rarely switch to French with them. The notion of “affective filter” delineated by Krashen and Terrel (1983) helps to understand how the negative emotions of performance anxiety and fear of failure interfere with learning. In any case, my French really benefited from my summers in Paris as I was doing plenty of activities out of the house and consequently getting lots of practice and improvement.
There, I had great experiences and probably started loving multilingualism as at many occasions I was surrounded by different languages in use (French, English, German and Vietnamese) and cultures. My uncle is from Vietnam and his family is spread all over the world; at many occasions I felt like being at the Babel Tour. I especially remember a wedding where people from 9 countries where mixed together.
However, even if I spent many summers surrounded with Vietnamese people I did not manage to learn no more than a few words. The truth is that I consciously decided I was not going to put many efforts in retaining such a difficult tonal language as I was seeing no point in doing so.
I started learning my second strong L2 at the age of 11 first as it was introduced as another compulsory subject of the curriculum and then at a languages school. English became of outstanding importance as it was the language of the Rock ’n Roll and the movies and it was clear that it was going to become the Lingua franca for communicating around the world.
At school I had to endure the grammar translation method with few opportunities to use English for real or to access real materials. We were asked to acquire lots of knowledge of the grammatical system and probably the hugest challenge was the grapheme-phoneme relationship as there are no clear rules. Even if English is SVO language and French is not, this did not give me much trouble.
I started Latin when I was 14 as it was a mandatory subject of the secondary school curriculum. At the beginning, I did not interest me at all as I had no intention to understand the mess of the Pope, I did not like the teacher and I loathed his tedious grammar-translation methodology.
Nevertheless the dryness of the subject, it soon came to its logic and I found derivational morphology engaging. Eventually, I dutifully took Latin and recognized how much knowing Latin would improve my Romance languages vocabulary. It took me longer and further study to see its relationship to English, which at the time I considered a Barbarian language.
Next, at the age of 16 I bought a self-study course. It had tapes, grammar, texts and songs; that is, an audio-oral approach. Even though, I had no exposure at all I could
easily transfer structures and vocabulary yet the lack of negotiated input extremely slows down the acquisition process. Let me mention in passing, that I never finished that course as I got soon bored of studying a language with the only company of a cassette-player and a book. What I am getting at is at the importance of interaction in order to learn a language as, at the end of the day, the final purpose of any language is communication.
Then, at the age of 21, I gained an Erasmus scholarship to spend a few months in Swansea to improve my English. Thus, at the border of the critical period for language acquisition proposed by Lenneberg (1967).
Probably the wisest choice would have been an English boyfriend but, I met a Greek one and such a good motivation made me quickly learn the alphabet, read texts I could not understand, learn words, their culture, gastronomy, etc. After about 3 months I realized I could get the general meaning of conversations and I started uttering a few sentences. In my memory it was a very sudden moment, it felt as if a switch had been turned on (Todeva 2009:82). The main point at issue is that I acquired Greek in an immersion environment by listening to the language in contextually rich, real life situations.
Additionally, at the age of 25, again after the critical period for language acquisition I joined a languages school to study German. My familiarity with French and English provided me with many lexical clues. I only studied for two years in an academic setting and I have not used it over the time. In consequence, it has become rusty and when last year I visited Berlin although some come back into action yet, I struggled to find vocabulary.
Finally, a couple of years ago I joined a course in Portuguese and against the idea that many linguists support, the language coming to my mind was my old rusty Italian. Even as little as one or two years of formal instruction in a FL can affect the acquisition of another FL to a significant extent (De Angelis, 2007:132).
In general, in order to propel my learning forwards, I employed a number of learning strategies such as reading, copying and watching films. Self-study helps a lot to master grammar and vocabulary. Nevertheless, you need real practice in real contexts.
To end up with, I would also like to point out that I like to pay attention to people’s gestures and body language; that is, the nonverbal aspects of communication. Another crucial factor to take into account is that languages are embedded within a culture. Thus, when you learn a language you also learn a culture and a way of expressing and feeling the world. As Besemeres (2006:52) drew our attention to, culture impinges on language in more ways than those captured by the verbal. As well (2006:51), emotional styles develop through habit and cultural osmosis, rather than through conscious choice.
HOW DO MY LANGUAGES INTERACT I am a case of a person who goes into language modes (Grosjean 2001). It means that I find difficult to suppress the knowledge that there is a more “natural” language of communication for my partner and me. In my mind languages seem to be “stored” alongside their speakers and if someone has a “label” attached to them, I have trouble communicating with them in another language. The only exceptions to this rule are friends who are balanced bilinguals (Todeva, 2009: 83).
Over the years, I have realized that I am unlikely to ever speak a language totally accent free and accepted that my accent is part of my identity. My accent shows clear sings of transference or CLI (crosslinguistic influence), which happens subconsciously. In general, apart from influencing one another, my mother tongues influence all the other languages that I have learnt (Todeva, 2009:124). Nonetheless, CLI can also manifest from the FL(s), can occur from more than one language at the same time and the higher the competence attained in the previous languages, the stronger the likelihood that some influence will occur (De Angelis, 2007:116).
In the same way I use a variety of styles or registers, I also use different languages in different contexts. I switch languages according to the languages that the people I am speaking with speak and feel comfortable with and, because of lack of competence (Todeva, 2009:123). Thus, consciously, although in other cases this happens unconsciously, especially at the level of thinking. According to Pinker, it takes place at 2 different levels: at the level of thinking and at the level of articulation. In addition, as I have studied in different languages, I somewhat feel my knowledge is also divided in different languages and that this is another reason for switching.
Naturally, the different lexicons are supposed to latch onto one another at the different levels of linguistic structure. However, as Todeva (2009:122) already defined I believe that I have one lexicon that is made up of different sub-lexicons; in other words, the individual lexicons of the different languages that I know are systematically combined into one massive lexicon.
It is intriguing to me that in cases where I battle to find the appropriate word in a language there is no competition from a special language. Against some models of lexical access in bilingual speakers which propose that you access through your L2, as Roca proposed, my access to the vocabulary in a foreign language is not mediated through the lexical items of the mother tongue.
In summary, I would say that my different languages happily coexist and constantly interact and switch. Furthermore, after almost five years in London I am not sure any more if I can still affirm that Catalan is still my dominant language. I have already noticed sings of attrition especially in my writing. Even if, family and friends have started making funny remarks about my language, it seems it still goes back to normal after a couple of weeks of being there. At work, they tell me I have amazingly improved my Spanish yet, they still do not completely like my Catalan accent but, this is more a political and cultural issue. The more you learn, the more difficult it becomes to store and remember everything. Thus, I would struggle to define my idiolect at the moment.
WHY DID I TAKE LANGUAGES AS MY PROFESSION
I would say that the driving force behind was that although I was shy, I have always been attracted to other cultures and learning languages did not suppose much effort to me. In addition, as already pointed out by Todeva (2009:40), choosing languages as my profession gave me the chance to reflect back on the experience in its totality, I would say that my language learning benefited when I started to own my learning. I first got a degree in Teaching English and French as Foreign Languages at Primary levels and then, I took postgraduate course in Intercultural Pedagogy. The fact of being taught different subjects in different languages was a great opportunity to use the languages for real and to improve them. In addition, I got an Erasmus scholarship which gave me the chance to spend time in the target culture and experience that even if at the beginning I was virtually mute, my comprehension improved daily and so, did my expression in the end.
Subsequently, I got a job as an English civil servant teacher and taught French to adults to keep in contact with the language. All this gave me the chance to gain experience and practical knowledge on how languages are learned. In the same way, 5 years ago I obtained a post as a French civil servant teacher for the Spanish Government in London. The opportunity to work in a Spanish/English bilingual school teaching French as a foreign language has been amazingly enriching both professionally and personally.
Similarly, I enrolled in a BA in Linguistics and Languages (French) in the Department of Applied Linguistics and Communication at Birkbeck University of London in order to boost my English and my French to an academic level, reorder all my previous knowledge, benefit from the experience gained through teaching and learning languages, and because the idea of solving linguistic puzzles engaged me intellectually.
Over the years, I have learned different languages at different times and for different durations. Generally, the languages that I have been exposed to for the longest periods of time have thrived, while those that I have only had short exposures to have encountered diminution or loss altogether. My knowledge of the languages keeps on coming and going (Todeva, 2009:125).
Generally, I think it was very beneficial for me to have early experiences with more than one language. Furthermore, learning languages has become easier with every language that I have added to my repertoire. The more languages I know, the more linguistic information I have as a resource to learning additional languages (Todeva, 2009:121). However, the more difficult to store and maintain all the information.
Although languages are best learned in a naturalistic environment, grammar is essential as it allows you to conceptualize a language as a discrete combinatorial system and provides you with a structural framework. It also has a positive influence in reading and writing.
Learning languages and cultures makes people more sensitive to the idiosyncrasies of its mother tongue speakers, even to the way they feel, and enriches life as each language encodes things differently. Besides, it provides flexibility of thought, it unlocks doors to literature and culture, it bridges communication gaps between people and it helps to adopt new perspectives on the state-of-affairs in the world and on how to feel the world.
My reactions are still automatic when I fill a form I use the language it is written in or when I code switch with my colleagues and pupils. Hence, code switching is advantageous because it enables you to communicate effectively and efficiently. If you cannot express yourself in one language you do it in another. However, sometimes it can be more a matter of confidence than competence.
My experiences and subsequent choices highlight the powerful effect of emotions on the enterprise of learning. The emotional context of learning a language can be a make-or-break issue (Todeva, 2009:149).
To sum up with, I feel happy and excited by the whole experience of the language learning roads I happened to take.
REFERENCES / BIBLIOGRAPHY
Besemeres, M. (2006). Language and emotional experience: The voice of translingual memoir. In A. Pavlenko (ed.), Bilingual minds: Emotional experience, expression, and representation, pp. 34-58. Clevedon, UK: Multilingual Matters
Todeva, E. & Cenoz, J. (2009). The Multiple Realities of Multilingualism. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter
Dewale, J.-M., (2010). Emotions in multiple languages. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan
De Angelis, G. (2007). Third or Additional Language Acquisition. Clevendon: Multilingual Matters LTD
Hofffman, E. (1991). Lost in translation. Life in a new language. Reading: Cox and Wyman Ltd
Edwards, J. (1994). Multilingualism. St. Yves: Clay Ltd
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