Thursday, June 7, 2007

Aimee Lee's Language Survey

Participate in a language survey on nomad/New York artist, Aimee Lee's blog
Here are my answers:

1. What was your first language? What is your most fluent language now?
A. English/English

2. Growing up, what language(s) did you hear regularly?
A. English, German, Polish, and Spanish

3. Do you speak the same language(s) as your family?
A. yes

4. Do you speak other languages? If so, which ones? When and why did you learn them?
A. Not fluently at all, and as every day passes that I don’t use them, my lingual abilities in Spanish and German fade to mediocre pre-historic grunt-like attempts at phrases. Yesterday I said “mucho gusto” to a Puerto Rican artist I just met in my neighborhood, and could not put together another meaningful phrase after that! I took Spanish formally from 7th grade through 9th or 10th grade and actually was fairly fluent and used it at my job for a few years after high school, as well as other casual conversations when it was appropriate. German was always spoken on my Dad’s side of the family, and it is his first language, though I’ve never known more than a few catch phrases or curse words. I taught myself a little more when I went to Germany and Austria in 2000 just to be able to communicate, but it still wasn’t very much.

5. Have you traveled alone to places where you did not speak the language? What was that like?
A. It is frustrating. It is frustrating in a very primal way, which is distinctly different than my frustrations in communicating in English, even though at times that is just as unproductive. Depending on the situation though, it can also be just as rewarding as it is frustrating when there is finally a successful exchange. There is something about the frustration in the isolation of being alone somewhere when you don’t speak the language or even know the customs. It’s a very primal situation. I remember being in a small town in Austria and having taken for granted everywhere else I’d been in Europe (mostly big cities) where my butchered German, or fragments of French or Spanish were answered by perfect English, I was sort of shocked when people didn’t “get” what I was asking or saying. I just got shaking heads or diverted glances, mostly confusion. I felt like I was mute, I felt very handicapped.

6. Have you traveled to places where you did not speak the language, but were accompanied by someone who did? What was that like?
A. That’s a little easier, but it still feels like I’m handicapped and out of place. But it’s like someone’s pushing my wheelchair.

7. Have you ever had to translate for someone else? What was that like?
A. The few times I’ve been in that position I only translated little bits of information. It felt good to be able to translate though.

8. How do you feel when you are in a situation with someone who does not share a language with you? What do you do to communicate?
A. In situations when neither one of us knows the other’s language, I do my best to use facial expressions or motions to get ideas across. Even when two people speak the same language there are so many nuances in body language and gesture that affect the communication. I sort of think I always have to develop a “base” and get to know what the other person’s non-verbal signals and signs are to really understand what they mean by what they say. And sometimes those things contradict one another, or mislead in some way. Therefore, I guess because so much of what we communicate comes in other forms than words or verbal language I think in some ways, challenges aside, it can be more interesting and honest to communicate with someone who doesn’t share my language.

9. Have you ever developed a language (written or spoken) with someone, whether as a child or in adulthood?
A. I remember utilizing languages like pig latin and developing variations on that with my friends when I was a kid. I also used to write in certain code in my diary, and it was a code I made up and no one else knew.

10. Have you ever been forced to learn a language? How did that go?
A. I was required to learn a language in high school and because I already started with Spanish I just continued, though I could’ve taken German. Now I wonder if I should’ve taken German. I am glad that it was “forced” on me though, and I actually wish someone forced me to at a younger age. It would be great to be tri-lingual or even more. I have cousins who grew up with German and English in their house and are therefore fluent in both.

11. Do people ever assume that you can/cannot speak a particular language based on the way that you look?
A. No, I haven’t been aware of anything like that really. Well…except when I used to use my Spanish at work and when I spoke to customers for whom it was their first language, they were often shocked. They were pleasantly surprised that this white girl was holding her own in a dialogue with them. I remember being complimented that my accent was nice and I spoke very well, so I guess that they probably assumed I couldn’t speak their language because of how I looked, let alone so fluently.

12. How do you feel when speaking a language other than the dominant language of a particular place in public?
A. I remember being really self-conscious speaking English on the subways in Paris. Other places too, but it was most acute there always, and I don’t know why. I remember feeling like I was being rude to be speaking in a language that possibly no one else on the train spoke, even though it had nothing to do with them, and even though they probably understood it.

13. How much of your identity is caught up in the language(s) you use?
A. I’m sure way too much. I sometimes wish English was my second language so that I could simplify my verbal expressions when speaking. As it is I’m not much of a conversationalist, but I think that is because there are too many words to choose from and yet none of them are really ever enough, or even right. I often wish I had a whole other lifetime to live and study linguistics and particularly the awkwardness and opacity of the English language. That’s my experience with it anyway. Then again most of my childhood was spent wishing I was a boy…

14. Are you a musician in any capacity?
A. No


aimee said...

Aw, thanks for the plug! You rock.

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