I grew up in a country whose native language is not English. But I grew up learning the English language nevertheless. In my home, we had access to English shows which I was constantly exposed to at a very young age. This is the reason why I learned English without much conscious effort. The language learning was taking place within the sub-conscious, which is the best way to learn any language: constant exposure at a very young age.
Mei-Yu (1998, paragraph 2) once said that in the acquisition of oral language, “young children are active agents”, constantly refining and defining the inputs that they get from their surroundings in way that makes sense to them. Children create hypotheses about language rules, constantly filtering them through active engagement with the more competent language users in their immediate environment. Unconsciously, they learn to recognize contexts and begin acquiring fine discrimination in their use of a language. Looking back, I guess the constant exposure to the English language is the reason why I grew up knowing how to use it.
There was never a conscious effort on my part to use or learn English, because it was already ingrained in my person. The people in my household knew English and spoke it on many occasions. I also had access to English books which strengthened my phonological awareness or sound-symbol relationships. This happened side by side while I was learning my mother language as well. As a child with a facility for the English language, I was subject to an excess of attention that I would not have received otherwise, had I just spoken our native tongue and nothing else.
There is a prestige attached to the English language that makes people in my country take a second look and listen closely to what I have to say. They also make speculations as to whether my family is reach and if I grew up in the United States or have been travelling there on a regular basis. Such is the high stature of the English language in my country that if you speak it well enough, most people that you are rich or your family is. Growing up, my situation as a multi-lingual was even more fascinating.
Perhaps it was because as I grew older, I became more aware of people’s actuations, and I am also more able to discern their motivations for why they act the way they do towards me. In my country there is a fascination for the English language because there is a fascination for the country. My people look at the United States as magical place where dreams come true, and life is generally better. To them, it seems like those who can speak the English language have greater chances of going to the United States as well.
This general notion extends in every situation. That is why in every conversation where my ability to speak the English language is displayed, people seem to treat me better and pay me more attention. Sometimes, in order to avoid embarrassment, I hide my fluency in English when interacting with my community. Clearly, there is an overt favor towards those who speak the language, as if we are better than the rest of the local people. This is consistently true in all areas of endeavors, from school to social, to professional career.
It is a sad situation, but true nevertheless, and I used my fluency in English and strive to make more of myself, in order to meet society’s expectations. Sometimes it can be difficult, trying to rise up to expectations, but I felt that it was my duty to do so, especially for those who sincerely believed that I could. The situation changed when I moved to the United States. If you are multi-lingual, you are regarded as ethnic, especially if your pronunciation has a very thick and recognizable accent. You will be subject to stereotyping, and in some cases, be even regarded as second class citizens.
While I am not saying that everyone will react negatively to your accent or your use of your mother language, it is a reality that there are some people who will take it against you. If there is any field that multilingualism is always an advantage, and that is in the corporate world. This is especially true in the age of globalism, where most companies deal with overseas transactions. Being multilingual means that I can communicate with my colleagues, and at the same time be able to communicate with a client or supplier who speaks my mother tongue, but nothing else.
Thus, I am able to bridge the communication gap and make sure that there will be no misunderstandings and conflict later on because of the language barrier. Actually, upon deeper reflection, I realize that people do not react to your multilingualism as much as they are reacting to the accent or how you speak the English language. The lesser your accent, the better people regard you. And this is true regardless or what place you are in. What we speak and how we speak, speak about our history as an individual. How we speak makes a statement towards who we are as a person. And people, for better or for worse, react to that.
In an era of increasing globalization, more and more people want to learn English to make themselves more marketable and competitive. However, the value of the mother tongue should never be forgotten. Our mother language keeps our identity intact and sets us apart from the rest. Knowing English is the ship that will help us to get where we want to go, but it is our mother tongue that will be our anchor; the one that will help us find our way should we get lost. Reference Lu, Mei-Yu. (1998). Language Learning in Social and Cultural Contexts. ERIC Digest. Retrieved: April 14, 2007 from http://www. ericdigests. org/1999-2/language. htm
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