Bilingual

I spent four years, 9th through 12th grade, trying to learn Russian.  I would sit in a classroom 4 days a week and stare at an online language learning software for 70 minutes. Usually, I ended my sessions more confused than I had started, wondering where all of the information I was supposed to have learned over the years had gone.

For the last three weeks, I’ve been in a French-speaking country. By just making an effort to speak the language as much as possible, I have learned more about linguistic concepts in 20 days than I did in 4 years of classroom education. Albeit French is much closer to English than Russian, I believe there are many other narratives similar to mine that would support this idea. It frustrates me to think that I spent 70 minutes a day, four days a week, 9 months a year, for 4 years trying to learn a language in a totally unnatural way. That’s 43,000+ minutes or roughly 720 hours of wasted time.

I can’t say anything sophisticated in French, but I can cash out at the grocery store and make baristas smile when I mispronounce something. I have made a lot more connections with people while trying to learn a language naturally than I ever imagined I could. Making an effort to speak in French has been a straightforward and considerate way to make good impressions and even gather a few friends. People generally want foreigners to try to fit in (assimilate, if you will, but that sounds a little too Manifest Destiny for this piece) and doing your best to speak their native language is a fantastic starting place. I want to encourage every linguistics student to think about their time spent in the classroom and then think about how much of that could have been used speaking languages, making real-world connections, and gathering a network of diverse, intelligent people.

Linguistics is a passion of mine so I wouldn’t put down anyone who wants to go to school for it, but I tend to think that a degree in it might be a little silly. What’s more impressive to an employer, a degree in linguistics or fluency in four languages? Which of those accomplishments is going to add more value to their business? I have always been drawn to languages, but I am only beginning to understand how difficult it is to comprehend them without being submerged in the culture they developed from.

I don’t regret my time spent learning Russian. It taught me patience, devotion, and the Cyrillic alphabet, which I probably could not have learned without a classroom. However, it also showed me that my time is something I should give out very cautiously. Those days clicking away on Rosetta Stone were not the most efficient way to learn. Language and the history of communication are so fascinating; I want to absorb as much of them as possible, which means I should be using the most effective tools possible. Language connects people and gives them a common ground. Teaching something like that in an academic setting with very little back and forth communication turns the entire class into an oxymoron.

Eloragh

 

 

 

 

 

 

Writing: It’s REALLY Hard

Some days, I just don’t want to write. It’s a fact of life, it’s called burnout, it’s pretty standard. Today is one of those days. I had a fantastic first day at my intensive. Compared to last year, my instructors are a lot kinder and more diverse in their training styles. The only difficulty is that every class is taught in French.

I like to look at it as a challenge though. Similarly to this blog, I really did not want to do that. I wasn’t super eager to take classes taught in another language, but I also knew I needed to learn that language quickly. So, I’ve been doing my best to take my frustration with the linguistic divide and bridge the gap with perseverance and patience.

Other than that, I had dinner with my dad, who will be leaving Montreal soon. I did some work for a very important person who I have a phone call with tomorrow. I would like them to feel as though I have already added value to their project, so I am up late making sure that will be the case.

Like I said, I see all of these things as challenges. Writing when I don’t want to, learning new styles of dance in a foreign language, and working really late to get a dream job. They’re demanding, they’re not necessarily the most enjoyable activities, but they reach towards a common goal: happiness.

Eloragh

French Variation

Around 11:30am EST, I drove onto the island of Montreal, QC with my father. I’ll be living here until July 25th to participate in a ballet intensive. I came a few days early to set up a bank account, get my McGill student ID (yes, my picture did turn out awful), and get my social insurance number for when I move up here permanently in August.

We’re staying in a VRBO until I can move to my long-ish term apartment, so we went down to the Marche Jean-Talon to get some groceries. Montreal summers can be brutal, but we were lucky enough to arrive on a mild, breezy day. As we walked down the streets next to the market, I thought about the parallels between Quebec and Senegal, another French-speaking place I visited recently. I also noted how French colonization had influenced both areas differently.

For reference, Senegal was a French colony until 1960 when it gained independence. In places such as Thies and Saint-Louis, the architecture and culture mimic French style very clearly. Much like Montreal, becoming independent didn’t mean losing the French lifestyle or development, it just meant political and economic freedom. The difference lies in how each country has changed since becoming its own nation.

Canada has undoubtedly had a much longer time (93 years longer) to expand its economy and form its political system than Senegal has. Canada also has a much more diverse economy, with lumber, fishing, and oil being just a few of its many resources. Senegal really only has its fishing industry and phosphate, a mineral that many westerners travel to Africa to mine and sell. Canada has little regulation and restriction on trade and business relative to Senegal, which has made it very difficult to export/import and nearly impossible for an average citizen to become an entrepreneur.

There are certainly more aspects that make up the difference between these countries. Just their geography alone has a great influence on the relative wealth of each former French colony. The fact that Canada is technically still within the British common-wealth probably helps as well.

I’m no expert on either country, but my thoughts often wander to these ideas when in a French-speaking country/province. I think my history classes definitely neglected the scope of influence that French colonization had on the world. The education I received focused mainly on England and, while the English obviously had a giant impact through exploration and expansion, other countries such as Spain, France, and Portugal also established themselves as countries of expedition and growth during the same time.

My blogs usually come down to this idea, and maybe I’m nitpicking here, but this is yet another flaw I see in traditional education. There are never enough school days to develop a thorough understanding of any period of history. In homeschooling/unschooling environments, students have the freedom and time to learn as much about anything they want without sacrificing the exciting details for the big ideas.

But that’s just my opinion.

Eloragh