dimecres, de novembre 08, 2006

How I Came to My Languages

Thank you for your interest. To be wholly honest, I wish I could say that my relationship with foreign language had been born of some profound, adolescent interest in the world beyond my rather limited and rustic childhood. However, the truth is, it was born from pure, unadulterated spite. When I was in the 5th grade, I had a well-meaning, but utterly absent minded teacher, who, instead of keeping her class on track with their reading levels, got us off on an interesting, but entirely off-sequence civil engineering project, designing a small town (I think this did leave an indelible impression nonetheless, as I now am a fan of SimCity, but I digress...).

In those days, in Pennsylvania, we had a strict tracking system, and by the end of 5th grade, you had to be done with a certain "reading level." Sadly, due to her indulgence, none of us was able to get adequately far enough along our "track" and all of us were dropped multiple levels upon reaching the 6th grade. This was especially consternating for me since I was already reading Tolkien in the 5th grade! Imagine my chagrin when I was placed in remedial reading! Worse still, my 6th grade teacher was a thoroughly unpleasant person, who took no interest in any of us who were in "Catch the Wind," the remedial reading group. I had to suffer along an entire year in that group, being forced to read extremely simplified texts from out primer, all of which were printed with extra large typeface. Apparently, in those days, it was considered natural that people who needed remedial reading instruction, also were unable to distinguish small letters...

Near the end of 6th grade, all students in our school had the opportunity to take an exam to test out of further reading classes and hence be allowed to study a foreign language in the fall of our 7th grade. In order to take this exam, we had to get permission from our parents. My mother signed the permission slip, and I presented it to my 6th grade teacher, she smirked, and said, "I don't know why you're bothering to take this test. You're in 'Catch the Wind.' You'll never pass."
Spite, I said, was my motivation.

Of course, I was reading real novels by that time, so I passed the exam with flying colors; I got a 94. I was very pleased to see the look of dismay and shock.

That is when I began studying French, and in the same year, having discovered that, not only did I enjoy studying French, but was able to do quite well in the class, I began studying Welsh on my own. Two years later I also signed up for Spanish, and in my senior year I took Russian. Later on in college, to appease my growing interest in the Pennsylvania German side of my family, I began working with that language as well as High German. Since then I have studied many languages to widely varying degrees, including Latin, Cornish, Irish and Breton.

In her own, malevolent way, my 6th grade teacher opened up my world to foreign languages.
And yes, once you acquire a new language, and you master it, you do see the world in a different way. The language I'm closest to emotionally, and with which I most enjoying viewing the world, is Welsh, but I also enjoy my views of the world from Spanish, French, German, etc., and the small changes in my own personality that come with them, as I have learned to reinterpret my own orginal English speaking personality within the cultural contexts of my other languages!