gettin' down in a town that makes no sound
The discussion in class today got me thinking about my position in the whole "non-native speaker" situation. Normally I wouldn't even consider myself a n.n.speaker. I was born in raised in good ole Minnesota, and learned English just like every other American kid. My parents, although natives of India and fluent Urdu/Hindi speakers, knew English pretty well. (They should, they attended British schools growing up where speaking in any language other than English wasn't even allowed.) But that doesn't mean they stopped talking in Urdu at home. I can't remember when or how it happened, but I just kind of picked up Urdu at the same time I was learning to speak in English. Kind of like osmosis. I don't remember any specific teaching of the Urdu language, while English was pretty much an all the time learning process.
I find that kind of interesting, and it makes me wonder what my parents' intentions were in emphasizing English, if that is indeed what they were doing. Looks like some fodder for our next dinner conversation. And a possible subject to add into my paper...? Anyway, I still think the Urdu language was important to my p arents, and something they wanted me to learn, in conjunction with our culture. It seems like they just overlooked an "official" teaching of it so they could encourage my skills in English, since I would be growing up here in America.
Nonetheless, I picked up some Urdu along the way. I didn't feel like getting into my Urdu experiences during class, because it didn't really seem appropriate to launch into that recap of my life in a cultural context while we were talking about students and consulting and academic writing and learning ENGLISH. :) But that just means I have room to analyze it here in the blog. So, since English was really my first language, I guess I'm a non-native speaker in reverse. Here in America, I just can't seem to get into "Urdu mode." I feel like every time I start speaking in Urdu, it feels out of place or context. Conversely, when I'm in India, I am most definately in Urdu mode. It usually doesn't take me too long after arriving in India to get there, either. It's so much easier to become an Urdu speaker when you're immersed in the culture. I do, however, experience the embarrassment non-native speakers feel we discussed today in discussion. Mostly because my cousins like to make fun of my abuse of the Urdu language...I had bad experiences as a kid. Now that we're all older, and a little more mature, my family was really supportive of me trying to switch into Urdu from English. With that kind of encouragement, I was speaking as fluently as them by the time I left. It's nice to know people are capable of having that kind of effect on someone who comes into the Writing Center as a non-native speaker.
I was really surprised today when Kirsten asked me if it was difficult to relate my experiences in India to friends or other people here in America. I didn't even realize, but that was exactly the case. I thought I just didn't feel like talking about it, but really, it's because I didn't know what to say about my trip. Not only do we have a difference of languages, there is a huuuuge difference in cultures. Even things like my sense of humor and slang words (and some pretty dirty swear words) changed when I was there, learning and absorbing the culture and language all over again. I say "all over again" because I have to re-learn everything every time I visit India. Isn't that sad? I've seen many people assimilating to American culture after immigrating here, while still retaining a strong sense of culture. I think I'm aware of my culture, but it doesn't necessarily play a huge role in my day to day life. Other than, you know, people wondering where the hell I'm from and what kind of name is "Meher" anyway?! (It's Persian.) It's something I want to work on. My parents have even fallen into the trap, and we speak mainly English at home. It's time to bring back the brown.
Aaaanyway. Things I noticed about learning, or in my case re-learning, a language include trying subconsciously to form a language structure while relating it to the structure you are more accustomed to. For me the transition is obviously easier because I've been learning another language since I was a kid. For someone who isn't in the same position, I think it becomes more difficult to switch back and forth between your native language and your non-native language(s) structures. And a lot of times, it is also difficult to try and find a specific formula, if you will, of a language, because there are always exceptions to the rule at every turn. For example, English has the pronoun "it" while Urdu has no such concept. Therefore, things in Urdu have a gender. EVERYTHING has a gender. And things that are of a specific gender cannot be changed according to their actual gender (like a dog always has to be male, even when it's female.). After that, you discover that the rules of finding a gender for the noun do not always apply. See? It gets really complicated, really fast. Just like I imagine English becomes for a non-native speaker.
Another thing I noticed about learning languages: any second language you pick up is stored in a specific part of your brain. I actually have some evidence of this...a friend of mine majored in Spanish studies and told me that the languages you learn after a certain age, or after your first language, are stored in one part of your brain while your first language is stored in another. I remember an oral examination I was giving in my high school Spanish class, where I suddenly started going off in Urdu. When I finally stopped and realized what I had done, my teacher didn't even know what to say. I found myself doing the Spanish+Urdu thing a lot in my college Spanish course as well, except it was in my head instead of out of my mouth (and confusing my teacher).
Damn I'm tired. All that thinking...all that analyzing...I'm mentally exhausted. Thanks a lot, Writing Consultancy. Pffft. But in all srsness, I can't wait to continue this subject in class. SUCH a nerd.