Some stereotypical musing from a second-gen immigrant.
I've got it written in my "About" page that--for someone who loves languages--I'm horrible at them. It's like I put all my knowledge of obscure grammar rules into English. Basically, I can debate the Oxford comma then struggle-bus it through my foreign language classes.
For some perspective: I'm Greek-American. I grew up spending time with my Greek-American cousins, going to the Greek-Orthodox church near my house, and taking Greek-dance lessons in one of the largest Greek-American neighborhoods in the US. I've spent summers speaking Greek on my dad's Greek island and in my mom's Greek-speaking Cypriot village. I also went to a Greek-American elementary and middle school where I had a Greek language class everyday.
Greek. Greek. Greek.
I've had about nine years of formal Greek-language instruction and 23 years interacting with my family (nearly all of whom are bilingual).
But I'm probably at a B1 level. Maybe B2. Never took a test or anything. If I read Harry Potter in Greek, I don't know maybe 3-5 words per 2 pages.
Obviously I'm embarrassed when I speak Greek, and there are--of course--the usual second-generation terrors (like wondering whether or not your grandparents understand how much you love them). Not to mention the way my anxieties worsen when I consider my chosen career, when I realize that I've studied English literature--have fallen in love with word-craft--yet can't transfer that love to another language. That I've begun a career in ESL, yet am not fluent in another language myself.
Then, when I try to relearn the basics, it's all just too basic (please stop teaching me how to say γεια σου and με λένε...).
It's knowing all the conjugations and mixing them up in your head.
It's understanding all of the vocabulary used in a conversation then drawing a blank when you're asked to produce the same speech.
During my last year as an undergrad, I'd taken another semester of Spanish even though I had finished all the requirements. I figured it'd been two years since my last class, and I didn't want to forget any simple grammar. When I went to my professor's office hours, I somehow ended up crying. We talked about the strange conflict many second-generation immigrants feel toward their native language and...I don't know what you'd call it. Home language? Ethnic? Those sounds your mom makes when you've pissed her off?
I know that to improve my Greek I need to get over my fear of embarrassment and just flipping talk. It's also not like I'd die if you told me to travel Greece by myself. Actually, I'm totally fine, and "survival" is an understatement. I've held long conversations with shop-owners and made friends with strangers.
But if I try talking to my family, my throat closes up. My words jumble.
Either way I've made the decision to practice Greek again beyond informal-family-correcting-my-speech. Part of me feels that I've got a duty to learn languages as an ESL teacher. I have a few copies of Greek novels, an old workbook from middle school, and my dad's books. The only thing I need to do is talk.
Oh and while we're at it--the girl who's shit at languages is also trying to learn how to read Hangul. I've got all the letters/sounds memorized. Now it's just a matter of piecing together words. This is usually me staring at a sign on Main Street for about five minutes until I realize it's a Konglish word.
So...yeah...in addition to relearning Greek grammar, I've also finally decided to try and learn Hangul. Partly because I'd always wanted to learn Korean (thanks, 5+years-of-taekwondo-training), but also because...well...it'll be useful if I make it to Korea for ESL.
Poor Spanish...I know I can't juggle that many languages at once, but I feel like I've left it in the dust...
On a positive note!! I stumbled across a Greek-American guy who's living and working in Korea as a television/radio personality, and he's also an English professor with a master's in Applied Linguistics, and he'skindofadorable, and he'sdonevarietyshows, and chilledwithGOT7, and just....AHHHHHHHHHH.
But yeah trash-can-fangirl-Lena aside, I think he's super cool. He's talked about his role as a "linguistic ambassador," and he's also pretty goofy, energetic, and honest. I'd like to say his multilingualism is my goal, but LET'S SET ATTAINABLE OBJECTIVES.
All and all, learning/practicing languages does bring me joy. Actually--it's the same kind of love that I have for writing. There's this sense of accomplishment, yes, but it's the communicative aspect that gets to me.
Seriously! The language we use can change the way we think about and interact with the world. Sharing a story in English offers a slightly altered perspective than in Greek than in Spanish than in German than in...
I mean, it's why I write--the nuance of experience. Why I teach, too. Why I travel...
...and why I try to learn...
Pedagogy and Reflection
We do not learn from experience. We learn from reflecting on experience