Semester at Sea Fall 2006 Voyage
TABLE OF CONTENTS
English Language Aquisition
By Lara Calloway
Most of my favorite field observations involve conversations and interactions between myself and others within the culture I’m visiting. Due to my own limited abilities in the realm of foreign languages, these interactions are almost always conducted with people who have learned English as a second language. Because of this, I’ve become increasingly interested in the hundreds of different reasons, ways, and processes involved in English language acquisition for non-native speakers.
Whether through school, independent study, business, or necessity, each of the people that I survey and write about have in some way attained a working (or semi-working) knowledge of the English language. Through observing and documenting my own communications, I hope to assemble a multi-sited ethnography about the different relationships each of these people have with the English language, and better understand my own connection to the language and others that I might one day finally learn.
this specific ethnography project, I’ve decided to focus mainly on
since their language acquisition is for the most part inadvertent, and
accurately reflects their socio-cultural circumstances. Given the right
attention and resources, anyone can learn a foreign language, for
reason they choose. If I wanted to, for example, I have the opportunity
lessons in Tagalog or Swahili, but any studies on the subject would be
bland, or more biological than cultural. This study focuses on the
ever-increasing necessity and demand on young people worldwide to
into a rapidly growing English-dominated world.
Saki comes from
well-off family in a farming village on the outskirts of
I couldn’t gather much information about Saki’s formal training in English, because other than simply asking about her school, communicating a complex question about the methods or motives was difficult. In his article Doing Feildwork in Japan, Theodore Bestor talks about the difficulties of getting people to talk about their own social and working environments, because they don’t understand why it would be something of interest to a foreigner. Most of the questions I posed to Saki’s older cousin, Yuki, about Saki’s or her own schooling were met with puzzled expressions and vague answers. I feel like she didn’t see the relevance of my inquiries. Already feeling (undeservedly) insufficient in her own English, she may have even felt like I was challenging her. Whereas, quite contrary, I was impressed.
Konan Women’s University in
I tried to put myself in Saki’s position, imagining a foreign exchange student in my own home when I was eight. I could approach her confidently and say, “Hola! Me llamo Lara.” I’d go to school the next day and tell my teacher, Mrs. Cuevas, all about it and she’d give me a big yellow star sticker, and I’d never understand the significance past contentedly doing what was expected of me. Not until now, anyway.
In a separate vein, there’s another eight-year-old who I feel full-well understands the significance of her English comprehension. Whereas Saki, at age eight, has very little to loose for not completing her vocabulary assignments or coloring-book language labs, little Aung Kyaw has everything to loose. Talking to her on the Ananda pagoda, her eyes looked ancient. Saki, intrigued by my difference and enchanted by the unknown, was bouncy and eager for my acceptance and attention. Aung Kyaw was bouncy like an eight year old, but much more eager for my money than anything else. Acceptance and attention come secondary to food and clothing.
As much as I didn’t want to be hounded and taken advantage of, I know Aung Kyaw’s plight. She lives her life day to day this way, waiting for dollars, Euros, British pounds, anything to keep eating, keep living, and keep from being displaced by the government. The only thing she has control over is how hard she works, and even that depends on others. Namely, in this case, me. In her article Darker than Midnight; Fear, vulnerability, and terror making in urban Burma (Myanmar), Monique Skidmore makes a point that denying fear is the most common survival strategy for the people in Burma. In a place where nothing is certain and everything is dangerous, that is all that can be done. The hard expression that blazed out of Aung Kyaw’s eyes as she thanked me for my contribution to her cause, was this denial of fear. This understanding, beneath the tiny hands and baby voice, that English is currency, and there’s no room for apprehension.
In Vidhya’s case, there’s simply no reason for apprehension. That girl spoke better English than most ten-year-olds in the States do, and I’d bet money she could beat me in a spelling bee, as well. As she confessed to me during our discussion about Harry Potter, Vidhya learned all of her English in school, and all of her Tamil at home (therefore, verbal only). Vidhya said that in school, Tamil is her worst subject. She takes it like an elective, as if learning to read and write a second language that she already speaks.
school similar to Vidhya’s in a nearby district of Tamil Nadu, I
starting in the first grade, the students have “English days.” Two to
times a week, all lessons and instruction are given in English, and all
discussion and assignments must also be in English. By the time most
reach high school, they have developed the language patterns necessary
converse efficiently in both English and Tamil. In fact, several
a habit of speaking Tamil, the language they’ve heard since birth, in
conversational dialogue, and switching to English when their discussion
academic in nature. I’ve heard of this kind of sink-or-swim immersion
done in grade schools in areas of French Canada, to insure that
growing up in households speaking only French or only English become
capable and fluent in both, since speaking both is increasing becoming
requisite of living in the area. However, it is fascinating to me that
advanced and demanding instruction program occurs in a small farming
initially took me a while to see it, clearly Vidhya’s (and her mother’s
sisters’) academic situation is a result of their caste. Sara Dickey
in her article Lives in Madurai that
the caste system, though contemporarily unsanctioned, determines
from marriage arrangements, living conditions, occupation, and goals
education. In so many of my field studies, I can’t help but reflect
on the unfairness and guilt I feel for having just been “tossed the
coin,” being born in the right place at the right time. Opposed to Aung
becoming an increasingly dominant language in today’s world. Children
outstanding ability for acquiring languages, and in this generation
more children are beginning to study languages that even their parents
I believe that by further studying this pattern of English language
in children we can better understand the practical migratory patterns
language. Whether for purposes of affluence, education, business,
privilege; the prevalence of English as a second language is
made my way around the globe to witness it with English as my mother
am personally beginning to find it absolutely unacceptable for me to
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