Matthew Anderson, World Scholar and Three Languages major, spent his first semester in Madrid, Spain and recently returned from spending his junior year abroad in Granada, Spain and Chengdu, China. In his article, he writes about his language experiences in Granada.
The Second Norman Conquest
I have always had a passion for language. As a kid, I collected new words and phrases with sheer excitement, coming to terms early with being an extreme nerd. When I discovered foreign languages, I couldn't get enough. It's always felt so freeing to be able to connect with someone in their mother tongue, to participate in a speech community not your own. I even find myself enamored with Kleinigkeiten and tonterías: with the relics of Spanish's future subjunctive, with the moribund -n declination in German, with how to say "to play hide and seek" in Catalan, with the proudly obscure middle voice in Icelandic, with the astounding six tones of Cantonese. Obscure linguistic rambling aside, I've always lamented the postcolonial and linguistic ramifications of English's dominance. As a lover of language as a whole, in all its beautiful incarnations and variations, I was looking forward to coming to Granada and living my life as a linguistic alien. I realized soon afterwards that it would be much more complicated than that. There's the more innocent (but all the same frustrating) way that English words and phrases sometimes invade Spanish through media exposure, like el look, el tip, el ticket or even "ghosted," that prevent total immersion even in a Spanish-speaking environment. There are then of course also people who personally, through force of will or slip of tongue, contribute to this process of worldwide anglosaxonization. Every time I hear a language learner remark with utilitarian frustration, "when will I ever use this phrase/word?" contemplating puzzledly why someone would ever want to express not immediately profitable ideas in a different language, I watch English rise a little bit higher in the global linguistic hierarchy. Every time I watch the ease with which native speakers of English can slip their filler words such as "like" or "I mean" into a conversation in a foreign language, I cannot help but think about the public outrage that would erupt if second language speakers of English in America uttered words in their language. Every time I hear a native English speaker brag (in a conveniently vague manner) that they can "get around" in a foreign language, later to demonstrate that their abilities are limited to ordering food in a restaurant, I wonder: is knowledge of another language really so devalued that being passively aware of a few phrases counts as a grand achievement? I can't focus just on native English speakers, though, because there are many who contribute to this process. I am more than a little embarrassed to admit that I have created a new identity to avoid having to serve as conversation practice for a Spaniard (and of course, when I felt guilty and admitted to being an American, they responded immediately in English). I've also found it hard to navigate the social politics of intercambios, or language exchanges: the people I meet tend to be very insistent on moving the conversation back to English, and responding in Spanish just seems to become a futile effort…Although I can't blame them, having been thrown unwillingly into a world economy that demands English competence (largely by the doings of my own country), this does not alleviate my frustration.
Thankfully, not everyone passively accepts the domination of the English tongue. Take for instance my host father, who, frustrated with the bombardment of English terminology like YouTube and Facebook, refuses to pronounce these words with anything but an unapologetic Andalusian phonology. Or the German girl I met on the bus to Malaga, who endured my mediocre German for three whole hours, expressing to me with umlauts and ßs that she always respects someone's choice to learn a language. She even taught me some Dutch phrases she learned, a language somehow more threatened by the English Invasion than hers. I have to mention as well the many Spaniards I've met who respect my desire to live a new linguistic life, who've gone out of their way to avoid Anglicisms. As a Three Languages major, I often get asked, after a peculiar smile or a confused glance, in the nicest way they know how: "What do you plan to do with that?" Well, that's simple: I plan to speak. There's power in speaking sentences in a foreign tongue. All of a sudden, you become a new person: a person whose mouth moves in peculiar combinations, a person whose brain constructs sentences differently, a person who is forced to feel alien. All of a sudden, English loses a little bit of its grip on world domination, and the other 6,499 languages in the world are that much freer to celebrate their own linguistic merit. For as much as we are able, wouldn't it be nice to move away from this hyper-utilitarian view on learning language? So entertain your impulses. Learn to play tennis in Catalan. Learn to cook in Guarani. Learn to critique movies in Cantonese. With every word and phrase, correctly spoken or laughably not, that you produce in a different language, you do your part to preserve our world's vibrantly colorful linguistic patchwork.