Publié le par chrislzh

Language, man......

So I've studied French, German, Russian and Chinese to various levels and for varying lengths of time.

Sometimes it just fries my brain.

So, being an English teacher in a programme that is supposed to provide quality, professional English teaching and having been put through a fair bit of "professional development" (otherwise known as liver punishing sessions), I've heard a fair bit of academic bollocks on the subject of language teaching and aquisition.

L1 is supposed to be your "mother tongue", right? As in the language your mother taught you? L2 your "second" (whatever that may mean) language. And so on.

Tonight at Ali Babas I was busy trying to eat a Cheeseburger (with the emphasis, as always, on 'trying') in order to soak up the excess alcohol before I headed back to the foreign teacher storage to phone a friend, and then at 10 as per usual, call lzh. That's far more detail than any of you need. Anyway, in the middle of my cheeseburger in walks a certain, ummm, Cheng Bo I think his name is, with a black guy in tow. My table was the most empty, and they asked if they could join me. I was just going to try and finish my burger and then leave, so I said sure. This black guy then turns to me and asks me:

"新西兰. 你呢?"
"法国. 你会说法语吗?"
"Oui, j'ai etudie francais a l'universite."

(apologies for the lack of the appropriate accents. My computer is not appropriately set up for such things right now)

Anyway, this black guy then looked very happy and decided to chat with me in French the whole time I was there, ignoring this Cheng Bo bloke who apparently speaks only Chinese, English and Russian, with a few phrases of French. Well, he didn't entirely ignore Cheng Bo. But speaking so exclusively in French was a good way of shutting the poor guy out of the conversation.

And this is what brought on all this thinking about language. See, I don't really give a flying fuck about the official definitions or explanations or theories or whatever. I just want to speak from my experience as a language learner and amateur linguist.

For me, L1=Mother Tongue (language my mum taught me)=English. Fine. Was a time when I thought I could replace English with a new L1, but I've since given up such ridiculously childish notions. I can see that happening for people from very small ethnic and linguistic minorities migrating to places like NZ or America, but not for those of us whose native language is the dominant language. L2 used to be French. That was the first foreign language I started studying, and is still the one I studied the longest. L3 used to be German, as my second foreign language, and L4 Russian. L5 should be Chinese.

But China intervened in all this. Within a year of me first arriving in China, Chinese had well and truly invaded my Russian. By the time I moved from Changsha to Taiyuan (via central Norway), I could no longer produce a Russian sentence, beyond the standard, Party-issue "strastvytie! Kak dela? Ya novozelandets.", without Chinese words and grammar fucking things up for me. A year later my German had gone the same way. Chinese had effectively moved up from L5 to L3. But for the first 3 - 4 years, French held its ground more stubbornly than a French chef trying to convince Chinese gourmands of their culinary inferiority.

But eventually even my French began to concede defeat. Nowadays, although I can generally read French without much difficulty, and I can follow a reasonably standard French conversation with not too much hassle, if I try to speak or write French, I get a huge amount of Chinese interference, in terms of both vocab and grammar. So, to all intents and purposes, Chinese has succeeded and become L2, with French following closely behind.

And so how, exactly, did this rant come about? Because this black guy, whose name I never learnt, unfortunately, insisted on speaking to me in French. Now, in a noisy environment like Ali Baba's of a Friday evening, the more 'foreign' the accent, dialect or language, the more trouble I have understanding. There's something about the background noise that just buggers my ears up. But I got maybe 75 - 80% of what he said and managed to reply in a somewhat intelligible way. I think. But as time and my Cheeseburger wore on, more and more Chinese crept into my speech. It's hard, man, these days, trying to use a language other than English or Chinese. I really fucking need practice.

But it was great that this guy just stuck at it, speaking French to me, at a native-speaker pace, making no concessions for my Kiwi-ness. Most French I've met will automatically speak English regardles of how good your French or how poor their English may be. That's not a good way to maintains your language's status as a major international language.

Publié dans chrislzh

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