Good morning, lovely dolls 🙂
Yeah, I know, I’ve been out of the posting habit for a week or two – oops. But I’m here this week to make up for it! Interestingly, I came into this morning with absolutely no idea what I was going to blog about, but after sitting in a class I’m taking this morning, I’ve decided to write about language.
What? I’ve made it clear from earlier posts that I’m a bit of a language nerd 😛
I’m interested in language acquisition and particularly in multiple language or multiple dialect acquisition and how that affects brain development. Which, now that I’m writing it out, sounds kind of intense, but I guess it’s no more intense than physics nerds getting all geeked out over Neal DeGrasse Tyson or whatever. Anyway, so I’m interested in why we talk the way we do and what that does in our heads.
As a child of a staunch English major and a TV broadcaster, I grew up speaking near-accentless standard English. People tell me all the time when they hear me over Vent or Mumble that they can’t believe I’m from the south, because I really don’t have much of a southern accent at all. I also listen to country music, which you can only really sing along with if you use a southern accent, so I practice that all the time, too. I’ve also spent the last few years working in an inner-city environment with kids that speak African American English (yes, it’s a legit dialect) and Chicano English and so I’ve picked up a smattering of those two. I’ve taken courses in Spanish, German, Russian, and French, with only real success in Spanish. So, I’ve done my fair share of language learning, to say the least. And I definitely don’t speak anything fluently except Standard English. I can slip into Southern English decently well, but beyond that — and even when you press me in that regard — I really can’t code-switch into a completely different dialect or langauge on demand.
My boyfriend, on the other hand, actually is fluent in a second language. He’s Canadian, and grew up in an immersion school speaking only French for the entire time he was at school, even though his native langauge is English. Although he’s never really lived his adult life in a French-speaking community, he is fluent in French. This is really, really interesting to me. If you take the two of us and just ask us to write down words we know in another language (him in French, me in Spanish), I would bet that I probably have a larger vocabulary of memorized words in Spanish. I can conjugate verbs in several tenses and write grammatically correct sentences, for the most part. I can translate something from English into Spanish. My boyfriend cannot do those things, and if you ask him to he often has to fall back on Google Translate to figure out how to say one word or another in French. He has no idea what different verb tenses are or why you would need to use them, or what conjugate even means.
But he’s fluent in French, and I flatly refuse to speak Spanish in public.
I just find it really interesting that someone can speak a language with a very limited vocabulary is really more fluent than someone who has a decent vocabulary but can’t really speak it. It’s bizarre to me, and I know it comes from him learning the second language as a little kid, but still..mostly I’m just jealous, because I know that no matter how hard I try, I’ll never actually be as fluent as he is.
Anyway, that’s my nerdy thought process for today 🙂
They don’t really teach English in school the way Spanish or other foreign languages are taught, do they? I remember vaguely some stuff about diagramming sentences, but I think I learned more about linguistics from Spanish class than I did any English class.
But at the same time, perhaps these concepts go unspoken and untaught because they’re not strictly necessary to get someone to learn the language; immersion is enough. People can get by just through imitating others, through pattern-matching and trial-and-error.
Without that in-depth immersion, however, we have to rely on teaching the language through concepts, through differences from English that we can hold in our minds and understand: things like past-perfect subjunctive and subject-object-verb word order.
Of course, as no more than a casual student of language, I’m sure the full picture of language learning is much more complicated than I can capture in the space of this comment.
What’s interesting is that if you learn a second language as a little kid, during the critical period for language development, you can develop full fluency without complete immersion. Of course, the way you teach a little kid is necessarily going to avoid terms like “subjunctive mood” and “dative case” because a four-year-old won’t understand that. But still, a kid learning a second language will be able to get a fluency level an adult just couldn’t.
Take, for example, the nephew of a friend of mine. My friend told me yesterday that her sister and brother-in-law are having to switch their kid’s day care because his is too full of kids that speak Spanish as their native language, and the nephew has started mixing Spanish into his English, and he’s becoming impossible to understand because the adults around him don’t speak Spanish. This is nowhere near a full immersion atmosphere – he’s got fellow three-year-olds that are growing up bilingual talking to him only on the days when he’s in day care. And yet, in an atmosphere that would leave most of us adults with nothing more than four or five words, this child is learning Spanish.
I just find stuff like this really interesting 🙂 And now I have to go defend my dinner from animals who haven’t quite grasped the “no begging” concept yet 😛
True enough, kids are just otherworldly at learning languages. I’ve heard children as young as six months can communicate with their parents and others through sign language, or at least a kind of sign language that is simple enough for their motor skills to faithfully reproduce. Makes you think they understand quite a bit at a young age but just lack the ability to respond until they’re older.