Foreign Language Experience Growing up in the Philippines, I have acquired three languages --- Filipino, english
, and Bisaya fairly well. I speak all three languages fluently, although there is a lot of mixture of the three languages in the way that I think and communicate. But these languages were not the only ones I was exposed to as a child. I went to a chinese
school that incorporated in its curriculum learning Mandarin chinese
. I spent my primary and secondary education in this school, a total of 13 years, but I have not become fluent in Mandarin. Yes, I know some basic characters, how to write these characters, some key points on pronunciation, but I am never able to communicate in chinese
. I would not say that it was primarily because of my teachers or my school for I believe that my motivation had a lot to do with it as well, but I must say that there was something about my experience with learning english
that made it easier for me to grasp it that was not present in my experience in learning Mandarin.
To explore this personal experience, I will discuss two things that I believe are important in learning a language, the urgency of learning the language and the immersion in the culture that uses this language.
Urgency of Learning the Language
Why do I need to learn the language? Why do you need to learn the language?
In my own experience, I needed to learn english
was one of the official languages of my country, besides Filipino. Many letters and books while I was in school were written in english
and most professionals; if not all of them, communicate through this language. The drive for me to learn english
was ever present around me, and I knew without a doubt in my heart that I needed it if I wanted to succeed not only in school but when I graduate. I wanted to be competitive enough so that when I start looking for a job, I can market myself to greater opportunities. I had the urgency to learn the language. english
to me, at that time, was something that I needed to compete side by side with other students across the world as my parents, teachers, and other mentors have constantly insisted that the time has come for everyone to think in global terms; and this line of thinking, I believe, was on track with what is happening right now. As Mydans of the New York Times said, “Riding the crest of globalization and technology, english
dominates the world as no language ever has, and some linguists are now saying it may never be dethroned as the king of languages. Others see pitfalls, but the factors they cite only underscore the grip english
has on the world: cataclysms like nuclear war or climate change or the eventual perfection of a translation machine that would make a common language unnecessary (Seth Mydans, New York Times, April 9, 2007).”
Now this urgency I had in learning english
was not true for me in learning Mandarin. I did not have the same innate motivation to learn it for use in advancing myself towards becoming marketable for future job prospects. Mandarin was not used as much as english
was in books that I read or by professionals I know of. I did not consider Mandarin as a necessary tool for me to succeed in school or when I graduate. I did not have the urgency to learn it. I think this is one reason that I never acquired fluency in it despite having 2 hours of class everyday for 13 years devoted to learning it. I never saw Mandarin as a language that I will need one day in the outside world.
Immersion in the Culture in Learning the Language
“Language is culture. When a person decides to learn french
, for example, he or she is not merely absorbing the linguistics of the language, but everything to do with french
and France (Ramona Tang, The Place of “Culture” in the Foreign Language Classroom, http://iteslj.org/Articles/Tang-Culture.html).”
I believe that language and culture are passionately entwined. Language moves as its culture does and vice versa. My tongue, Bisaya, reflects so much of its people and how it grows with the change in the generation. The usage of a language could vary immensely in the time and culture of the generation speaking it; and thus, effectively learning a language requires immersion in its culture or interaction with people who speaks it day in and day out. As Kilickaya said, “Knowing a language goes beyond the knowledge of grammatical rules, vocabulary items and pronunciation of these items. Successful language learning requires language users to know that culture underlying language in order to get the meaning across (Ferit Kilickaya, Authentic Materials and Cultural Content in EFL Classrooms, http://iteslj.org/Techniques/Kilickaya-AutenticMaterial.html).”
My early personal experience with immersion to learn english
came in the form of audio and visual exposure through movies, music, books, and other authentic materials. My parents have always been very keen on my learning english
that they have always spent time and money on these materials. In my high school years, I had opportunities to interact with “english
Speakers” and had been given the opportunity to test my ability to communicate with it. In my college years, I had more exposure, more immersion on the culture of english
speakers (mostly American) and had been able to refine my ability in this language. Lastly, and certainly not the least, I was given the chance to teach Math in North Carolina, USA, where I further immersed myself in learning english
. This social immersion with real people of native english
speakers is probably the ultimate shaping of my fluency in the language. I have acquired some invaluable subtleties in the use of the language when speaking to people publicly or privately. I also now live with an American family, which has given me even more exposure on the language at a very different level. These experiences have made me conclude even further that language and culture cannot be divorced from each other since each functions according to the other, whether language influencing culture or culture influencing language.
This type of immersion was not present for me in Mandarin. Yes, I had 2 – hour class each day for 13 years that was wholly focused on learning Mandarin. But after that, I had no connections whatsoever in the use of the language anywhere be it in music, movies, or books. My exposure with Mandarin was limited in the classroom, and was never backed with enough social interactions to learn the culture of the people who speak the language. I had some few interactions with real “chinese
Speakers” but these were very limited and very restricted; I did not have a real experience in the use of the language in a cultural context that would have allowed me to explore and learn more about it. This, I believe, was one of the major reasons that I never acquired fluency in Mandarin.