Thursday, 9 April 2015

Finding your Identity in a Second Language - Part II

Hello there!
Here is part two of last week's post in which we talked about why we should find an identity in a Second Language in order to become successful learners, and how acquiring an accent close to a native speaker's is important to do so. Furthermore, as well as an accent, it is equally vital to adopt some cultural aspects of the target language. So here are some reasons for it and how to do it! 
  Why incorporating some cultural aspects from the target community into our second language identity? There are many reasons and you may have some personal and specific ones as well, but one which I think encloses almost all of them is looking for empathy (understanding and agreement). As humans, we are more likely to accept people that behave similar to us and with whom we share ways of dealing with certain situations. Thus, native speakers will feel empathy for us and think of us as advanced learners if we act similar to them. We also have to find empathy ourselves for the community we are 'copying'. Learners are more likely to succeed when acquiring a language and creating an identity if they agree with its community in terms of cultural aspects and they can understand them. The reason why this happens is that if we agree and understand something it should be a hundred times easier to acquire it and incorporate it to our identity. Here is an example: if you come from a country or a particular community where people are very affectionate with each other, even in public, you may find odd that in many other communities, people hardly touch each other when talking, etc. If you have a lack of information and you approach somebody belonging to that type of community and culture by touching his/her shoulder, you might get a bad look and an unfriendly face in return. This obviously can make you feel uncomfortable and even can mean a step back in your 'relationship' with that language. In this case we could call it a misunderstanding (which could be avoid by informing yourself in advance about that culture) but when creating your identity you may also find it helpful to acquire an accent and the cultural aspects from a community with which you agree. For instance, if you yourself are not a very affectionate person you will definitely agree with the way of thinking of the community mentioned above and thus, you will be more prompted to accept that community and to feel a part of it. On the other hand if you cannot help but touch people whilst speaking you may find some American communities more familiar to you than those in Britain, which means that, probably, you will feel that you fit in better there and that you could adopt their cultural aspects and their accent easier or more naturally. 

  Another thing that has to be taken seriously is motivation. It might be surprising for you to see how fast a Scottish adopts the accent of Latin American Spanish or that from the South of Spain, and he/she will tell you that is because he/she loves how passionate people are there, which could not be farther away from that person's own culture. However, we, ideally, want the whole package: if you sound like a Latin American you may want to act accordingly, that is, you will be taken as such a good and versatile learner if you both sound and behave like one. How strange it would be if a person approaches you with a Latin American accent and the moment you touch him/her you receive a grunt or a surprised face.
  As in my previous post, I would say the best way to acquire some of the more salient cultural aspects is to be documented, choosing those closer to your own personality and, step by step, mould them until they integrate perfectly with your new L2 identity. Below are some ways to do it:
  1. Observing: as always, having a curious mind is key for improving as a learner. Do not believe what books tell you about pragmatics straight away without having the chance to observe native speakers interacting. You would be shocked to know how out of date most textbooks are. For example, you may have learnt that before going to bed you should say 'good night' but the reality is that, if you are for instance in England, you will be more likely to hear 'night-night' (sometimes pronounced ['nai'nait]) You might be thinking this is an impossible task if you are not immersed in the speakers' community or if you do not have access to native speakers where you live. But don't worry! Nowadays you can always do tandems via the Internet (Skype is a great option) or even watch lots of TV series in original version and take notes. 
  2. Modelling: as I explained in another post, learners are sometimes like actors/actresses. Think of the gestures you are trying to imitate as part of the role that you are preparing for acting on a film. Dramatise gestures or situations a little, just to get the hang of it. However, when talking in public it should come naturally and it would if you have practised some possible reactions for usual situations in advance, trust me. There are some interesting examples about this one: you may have noticed that when English people describe how a ball came down a hill with hand gestures, they indicate with their index finger the path the ball would follow going down. On the contrary, Spanish people describe not only the movement of the ball going down the hill, but also how the ball rolled while falling: that is, they would indicate with their index finger going down and around itself doing circles in the air. So it would be perfect if you could model that type of things!
  3. Practising: even if you know the finger thing above, if you do not practise your brain would act automatically when speaking in English or Spanish (whatever language you may be learning) the next time and it would be perceived as non-native by your interlocutor.
  To close up these two posts' topic I would say that, above all, this journey to become a successful learner has to be fun and that sometimes or for some of the languages that you may be learning, it is even something unconscious when it comes to creating an identity. We may fall in love with a certain accent, community or culture and we will create our identity modelling them, no logic involve. In that case, I hope you can see these posts as a guide or inspiration to improve at that language even more.

  But before going, I am going to give you three last pieces of advice! (1) Lose any sense of ridicule you may have, as people say, 'fake it 'til you make it': do not be embarrassed to try to improve at anything and failing some times because that is definitely the way to do it! (2) If you choose to incorporate some aspects of a certain community of speakers to your second language identity, try not to mix vocabulary: for instance, if you feel like you are closer to acquire a British-like identity, use the word 'autumn' to refer to that season instead of 'fall', which is the American way to call it; and (3) Watch your writing since there are some writing habits that would betray you even if you are a really advanced learner: 'realiZe' might be the American spelling but, for example, in British English you would write 'realiSe'.

Have this helped you in any way? Could you add any more information related to this topic? Let's everybody share our personal experiences, shall we?
Thank you for reading and have a nice day!

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