Before I went to Ireland, I considered myself as fairly fluent in English; now I do not. After I had been here for some time, I started wondering: When are you really fluent in a language? I can participate in conversations, even academic ones, and I have no problem with relying on my English. In spite of this, I still feel like a completely incompetent English speaker when someone uses idioms that I have never heard before.
A language consists of implicit cultural knowledge that non-native speakers do not have a chance to know about; even non-verbal communication within that language is different. Within different variations of the same language, difficulties of understanding can occur as the cultures are different from each other. For example, Americans on exchange in Ireland can sometimes find it hard to understand Irish, not just because of the accent, but because of the cultural differences; that is in spite of them both being derivations of English.
I do not think that language only consists of words. I think it consists of culture. To become fluent in a language, you have to be fluent in the culture. In another blog post, I argued that a language shapes your identity as you use the language to think. I still think that it is true, but I am now adding on to that. If the language is a product of the culture, so are you. You are a product of your native language and culture which your identity is bound to. I think it takes a lifetime to become fluent in another culture, just as it takes a lifetime to create an identity. With that being said, I still believe that knowing another language expands your identity; you become aware of another culture and another way of thinking.
In a tutorial I had in Writing for New Media, we were asked to rephrase sentences to make them shorter or passive. It is a tool to help us become better writers, and it enables us to look at our own sentences objectively. While doing this, I couldn’t help thinking that it might take away our own voice in what we write. Of course, we have to aim for objectivity regarding some genres, but it is still important to create your own style. What if your personality gets lost due to rephrasing the text too much?
We all know the feeling of “killing our darlings” – whether it concerns school work, blog post, etc.. Sometimes you have to make sacrifices for the word count. Some of your best formulations have to go, and it might feel like it takes away a part of you. I think this makes sense as it is your text; it is your words, how you think, and your perspective that comes to life through the text. Rephrasing a text means compromising you.
This is a bit exaggerated, but bear with me; I have a point. If you had to rephrase your thoughts all the time, wouldn’t you lose track of who you are? When you communicate through the medium of text, and you have to rephrase it; how much of your identity do you really show? By rephrasing yourself, you don’t really let other people know exactly what you have to say about something. Whether it is in an academic essay or a blog post, I think a tiny part of your identity gets compromised in the rephrasing. A word count is a restriction. Or is it a challenge that helps you grow and think thoroughly about what you write and how you do it?
We use labels all the time whether it is to define ourselves and others. A few are crucial for your power position within the society. In my course about gender, some of these labels were mentioned:
• Sexual orientation
Why are they important? What does it matter? These labels do not say anything about who a person is. It helps us putting people into boxes, but personal values, humor and interests are not portrayed through labels.
There are more labels such as:
• Occupation (student, in between jobs or high position)
• Famility status (if you are a brother, aunt, nephew, cousin)
• Location within your country (if you are from Dublin or Galway)
• Pet owner
These labels matter in terms of how you identify yourself. They are parts of you, but they cannot identify you as a whole. There can be discriminating, violent, and even fatal consequences if you are of the “wrong” gender, sexuality, ability or race etc. Who is to decide the definition of what is “right”? We should not judge people before we know them. We should distance ourselves from labels so that we can get to know each other without any prejudices.Who knows, maybe your soul mate is a “wrong” person with a heart of gold who can change your life?
Labels are everywhere, and we use them all the time. But there are great variations within each label; for example, there are different ways to be religious, different extends of ability and different perceptions of age. We should set those labels aside and just see each other for what we are. If we identify ourselves, all of us, with just one label, we could gain an egalitarian society. I am human. What are you?
Today, gender is a hot topic. So far, I have not revealed my gender. In fact, I have not mentioned gender so far, not even through pronouns. It is a deliberate choice, and now I have a question for you: What does gender mean to you? Is it important for you to know mine?
Every day, we are confronted with gender; whether it is regarding the segregation in public bathrooms or performed stereotypes. Since early childhood, we are affected by what sex we are anatomically assigned.
If someone announces that they are having a baby, the first question asked is what sex the baby is. But why does it matter? As soon as the sex is revealed to the public, the gender starts to develop. Clothes and toys get color coded, and the baby is treated in accordance with what sex it has. Of course, there are biological differences, but the nurture of the child has a huge impact on how the child perceives the world. I think that the fact that children are treated differently because of their gender makes it impossible for both genders to be equal because our upbringing affects us fundamentally.
The cognitive concept of gender makes it hard to differ between what you do as you and what you do because you were told what to do it as a child. There is no rational reason why girls are praised for caring about their appearance whereas boys are shamed for wearing nail polish. An enormous part of our identity is developed through gender, consciously and unconsciously. The way we think is affected by our gender. So, are you your own person, or are you a social construction affected by a fixed perspective of how you’re supposed to be according to your gender?
In my last blog post, I left a deep question hanging in the air. The question was if bilingual people have a wider perception of the world than people who only have one language. The reason why I thought about it is that languages determine how we think and even what we can think. Therefore, having two languages must give you a huge advantage since you have two languages you can use while thinking.
Yesterday, someone asked which language I think in. Honestly, I am not always aware of it; it really depends on the situation. I switch a lot between Danish and English as one language sometimes describes a situation or a feeling much better than in the other. I can compare the two languages and use their differences as an advantage, just pick and choose.
In addition, it is also easier to understand non-native speakers as you understand why they struggle with sentence structures or the lack of words sometimes; with two languages, you know there are many differences. It is hard to express yourself if you lack the words for something that you have in your native language. The way you think is the foundation of your identity, but it is also connected to your language. Therefore, if you have two languages, your identity must automatically be broader as those two are correlated.
As your identity is dependent upon what you think and how you do it, your identity must be determined by having two languages as a bilingual person since you use both of them. With two languages or more, you have the opportunity to see the world through different “eyes”. So yes, I would personally claim that you have the possibility for a wider comprehension of the world if you are bilingual.