Thursday, January 10, 2013

Tangled in the language question, Part I

Oh, this is such an intriguing topic! I wish I could spend more time journaling about languages and language learning. I've started a blog like that, but I find it difficult to find the appropriate level of formality. Of course, I could write a second dissertation, in the form of blog posts, but I don't really feel that would help a lot of people. I could, on the other hand, go completely anecdotal, but then again, I'm afraid much of my professional insights would be lost. Not to say that I know everything about language learning. But I do know a great deal, and linking theory to the marvels I see around me is one of the main reasons behind me choosing this profession.

So, I've decided to try my hand at something very informal, writing first about my own experience as a language learner and teacher, and adding whatever thoughts I have about it as an applied linguist. The key here is fun, and I intend to omit all the boring jargon and psychoanalytic blabla. All that matters is that I have fun writing about it and my readers have fun reading.

Then let's plunge into it! ;)
I'm not going to start with a bio or even by telling you where and when my interest in languages was awakened. I would have to think hard, and even then I'd probably never really get it right. I'll rather start at the last bit of language related trivia that I was musing about right when I felt the urge to start this series of posts.

I spent Christmas in Hungary, with friends and family, a magical time. Really. First it made me marvel on how warm the atmosphere is in that small, history-scarred country. And then, about how easy it is to feel passionate about the place. Love the buzz, the daily (and nightly...) hum of people doing things that sweeps you off your feet and carries you through adventure after adventure. Hate the general negative attitude that underlies all the partying and the sad stories that accompany the hilarious. Love the glow, the taste and the colors, but hate the smog, the cheapness and the drabness. But, deep down, you can't help being moved. You can't pass by all the fun and the beggars without feeling something, taking something with you.

For me, most of the time, it's a feeling of belonging. I'm one of a kind, certainly, and most Hungarians would not like some of my ideas, but I'm one of them nonetheless. And that's a queer feeling, since we don't really have that much in common. But I feel I did once have that navel cord through which I was spoon fed this culture, and I know I understand them even if I don't agree. And they understand me.

I miss this a lot in Geneva. Yes, you're one of the crowd, and no, you aren't. Half the people are foreigners, they're welcome, but you're still a foreigner even though you're quoted as one of the populace. You're the welcome guest who always remains so.

At first I felt thrilled, then slowly I became dismayed and offended. I fought and struggled to show I belong, display my qualities and improve on my weaknesses, trying my best to excel over the natives. To gain their trust, their approval. I tried assimilating, and when they still took me for a guest, I tried highlighting the novel and the great I could add to their treasure. Still politely not interested.

And then it dawned on me, on a foggy January morning, staring at the Bottomless Lake in Budapest, wishing to drown my sorrows at leaving. I was looking at the seagulls, pinching bread crumbs from in front of the native but much slower (witted?) ducks. I love ducks, all know that. They choose a partner for a lifetime, and their brown females chase around their colorful males, who fight for the gals come spring. Lovely birds. Nonetheless, what the gulls were doing amazed me.

They were the guests, but shiny white and nimble, they were running around on the thinnest ice and dashing in and out to grab a bite whenever they saw one. And the ducks were squawking and gawking, nibbling at what the seagulls left. And then and there I decided I would not want to be a stupid (though lovely) duck.

The metaphor's not perfect, of course. Far be it from me to want any other's bread -- or walk on ice, for that matter. But it does show, if partly, what I mean. None of the gulls sat down on the waves pretending to be a duck. And why would they? They have their own way of living their lives, and they don't think about giving that up just to please some conservative ducks. When in Rome, they do as they wish.

And I mean to do just that. I'll stop trying to get acceptance into a community I don't even think is flawless. Maybe I'll be a guest my whole life, but I'll be an honorable one and a smart one. I'll take what's offered, take what's lying around or has been hidden for centuries because the natives are not adventurous enough to find it, and live as I please.

And I'll stop apologizing for my command of French and abase my English to please anyone. I'm not saying you should be so arrogant as to dismiss the local tongue. In my opinion, if you wish to get anywhere in your life, it's a huge asset. But you should by no means feel inferior and let people push you around just because of their 'perfect' command of it. For the last year or so, I've been trying my hardest to be able to sound Swiss when I spoke, and shunned from speaking when I thought my accent would come through.

Which is just plain stupid. I don't think I'll ever sound Swiss, not all the time at least. Not necessarily because I can't. I'm a firm believer of the 'everything is possible if you really put your mind to it' mantra, especially in language learning. But exactly because I don't think I really want to. It would be deliberate cheating, cheating people but first and foremost cheating myself. I'm sorry, but I don't like the idea of becoming Swiss. I don't like the idea of being strictly typical Hungarian either, I generally don't like to be typical, but no, thank you, I don't want to be Swiss. Even a late-Swiss, one who immigrated but was then good enough to be condescendingly accepted.

Since I've started talking in French regardless of what I sounded like, people have been looking at me in amazement. In an evaluation to a course I taught in French, one of the students even said that she'd been amazed by my ease of communicating in a language I spoke to such a low level. Well, I wasn't pleased at my  level seen as low, but I soon saw the comment for what it was.

From that moment on, I left the bottomless lake. I decided to be a seagull, bright white, lean and smart. I speak Duck, and I'm able to convey my thoughts, but I refuse to squat on the icy shores waiting for my breadcrumbs. I hunt bigger fish, fish these ducks don't even dream about. And I want to see faraway shores too. One day. From time to time.

For the time being, I'm a guest in this beautiful country, taking all that's offered and enjoying being different. And if someone doesn't like my French... I wonder what their Hungarian is like. ;)

Thank you for reading.
Part II will be up soon,
check my blog later for the next chapter
of my adventures.

Have a lovely day!



  1. Hey Fleur... I like the font you are using here! What is it called??

  2. It's blogger's own, called 'coming soon'. ;)

  3. I wasn't even welcomed as a guest... I was called an "immigrant", apparently no need for bells and whistles

  4. Hey Fleur, I haven't checked by in a while, so was pleased to see posts I hadn't seen yet. However... I had to stop reading, as I find the combination of font and color impossible to cope with. No, it's not some wacky color, but it's - at least to my eyes - a very harsh black on a very harsh white. Plus the backward-leaning business... I can't cope. Are you planning to stay with this font?

    1. Hi and thx for the feedback! How about this one? Blogger now has a vast range of fonts and I'm more than ready to try new ones. Let me know what you think about this one. I'd prefer something a bit less formal, but I can go back to more traditional ones if it inhibits reading. ;)