Sunday, October 17, 2010

I want this woman to be my friend


Trans rights?

Rights of the incarcerated?

Loving 30 Rock and In Bruges?

This blog rules.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

“Thought is the blossom; language the bud; action the fruit behind it” Ralph Waldo Emerson

Safely back on American soil, the past few days of repatriation have been relaxing and unsettling at the same time. While I ease back into my life à l'américaine, I struggle with the choking monolingual reality of my homeland. English is everywhere and ubiquitous (even if obnoxious non-American Anglophones still dog me with their unnecessary, often incorrect criticisms). But I am not composing this entry to muse about the difficulties of re-entry. Rather I wanted to draw attention to some recent news coverage about the difficulty of learning a foreign language, but also to the benefits!

First this article on 27 August 2010 “Should British pupils give up studying French?” does eventually reach the salient point that actually accomplishing conversational fluency in a language cannot occur for most people within the classroom—and is quite difficult in any case, often with little pay-off. I’ve certainly come across a few people who are so adept at language learning that they need only a book or two, and a few weeks, to become quite competent, though these folks are usually heritage speakers of a language in the same language family as the target. In any event, the majority of others who claim to ‘speak’ a foreign language or two are complete bluffers who are relying on the ignorance or confidence of the interlocutor. These types are also extremely frustrating to those of us, including me, who devote a lot of time, effort, and relationship building to become conversant in a foreign language for real.

While French is not an easy language to learn, it is nonetheless less difficult for native English speakers to learn than is Arabic. French is not in the same language family as English—the former is a Romance language, the latter a Germanic language—however, due in large part to the Norman invasion in1066, French and English share more of an affinity than either language enjoys with Arabic—a Semitic language. That is why I am delighted at the number of programs, funding, and interest in learning Arabic and other lesser-taught languages (as they are currently called in pedagogical circles). While some of the personal comments in this article are a bit horrifying, it is interesting nonetheless (including a mention of the Critical Language Scholarship, which I had the privilege of enjoying 3 times).

Meanwhile, if it is indeed so hard, time-consuming, and labor intensive to become conversant in a foreign language (as opposed to ‘learning,’—what does that even mean?), why bother? I never seriously entertained a career as a translator, interpreter or foreign language teacher, despite the fact that the rest of the world assumed that those would be the only reasonable options available to a student in modern languages. Instead, I abandoned my biology major after one semester, transferred from a private, women’s college after my first semester, to a public university, and picked up my major in Modern Languages and Linguistics at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. My goal? Two-fold: To increase the number books available to me to read and multiply exponentially possibilities to socialize. I have a hard time being motivated by money, except for money that I intend to use for my next big adventure. Fortunately, a major part of the mission of my current work is relationship building—a euphemism for socializing! While my current job doesn’t necessarily require my foreign language use, I am able to incorporate French and German into my daily routine thanks to my international colleagues. As for Arabic…I have my post-program language test tomorrow. I have been reading Arabic every day since I returned less than a month ago. Likewise, I have been listening to Arabic here and there, and writing emails to my Arabic teachers. As for conversation, the opportunities are sparse. Fortunately I will be spending two weeks in Egypt in December. Meanwhile, I am working on my dissertation, the methodology of which features indigenous materials—that is, books, essays, and articles written by Moroccans in Arabic and French.