December 31, 2013, by Guest blog
Shaping my native tongue
Post written by Josephine Adams.
Before I had even thought about organising it, I knew that I expected my language skills to improve during my year abroad. Of course, the image that this conjures up involves speaking nothing but French at home and at work, something which couldn’t have been further from the truth for me.
Before I left the UK, it had been decided that I and two American language assistants would be looking for accommodation together, something which raised a few questions amongst friends and family about exactly how much French would be spoken chez nous. This was probably a valid concern, considering that a strange creole of British and American English quickly became our lingua franca. However I think that the fact that we were all looking for somewhere together buoyed everyone’s confidence in their French, and we were all able and willing to contribute to the many conversations that we had with landlords in the first weeks after we had arrived. Being able to cross reference vocabulary and learn together the words and phrases that we would find necessary was certainly a big help, since everything around us was new too.
In lessons my French has, of course, taken a back seat to the students’ English. This was always going to be the case when I applied to do an assistantship, although it was unexpected when I was asked not to tell the students that I spoke any French. Even so, this has worked really well, minimising my role as a ‘translator’ and encouraging the students to go further out of their comfort zones and attempt to explain or mime words which they are unsure of, whilst I can still understand what they are saying to each other, which sometimes helps to identify problems. Nonetheless, I still have plenty of opportunity to try and develop my language skills by speaking to teachers – most of the English staff push me to practise my French, as do the rest of the teachers, and evidently everything else that happens outside of work takes place in French too, be it shopping, travelling or even helping out at garden sales!
Just as your experiences shape your vocabulary in your native tongue, the case is much the same with foreign languages – whilst I have collected vocabulary by reading housing adverts, attempting to solve internet troubles and trying to share recipes with some of my teachers, others have become more familiar with yoga terminology or medical words. But even more than that, I think that I have become more able to speak spontaneously, as well as write emails more quickly and become more confident in speaking on the phone – arguably worthwhile life skills in anyone’s language!
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