My Essay on Language!

If you guys are interested in reading this essay of mine, which could help me win $15,000 for college, I would really appreciate your votes! It is about language, so this isn’t too off topic. It is very similar to my “This I Believe” essay, which I have modified for this prompt: “Discuss one way in which your education has empowered you.”

Gender Theory and Language

I recently read an article on Upworthy about the use of gender pronouns, which you can read here. It got me thinking about the people who identify as genders other than the standard binary ones they may be assigned at birth. When it comes to this sort of thing, it only ever happens in America. I haven’t heard of many people in other countries that speak up about this kind of thing. And I realize that this is dependent on certain things that relate to the language’s structure. First up is whether the language in question is gender-sensitive. This means that the language actively distinguishes between male and female. English, and Romance languages, for example are gender-sensitive. On the other hand, Korean, Chinese, and Hindi, are not gender-sensitive, at least in the spoken language. I have read once or twice about Spanish feminists who claim that Spanish is a predominantly masculine language, because of the fact that it distinguishes between male and female in nouns and adjectives. They call for a neutralization of the language, but I’m not sure how well that would work out, because it’s not exactly easy to make people change the way they talk. Which brings me to English. This is something that people in America do discuss and do not question as an issue. What if a transgender person or other non-binary-adhering person (excuse me for my possibly politically incorrect language; I’m not especially familiar with the terminology) doesn’t identify as the gender they were assigned at birth? It takes a while, but those who are close to the people in question do adjust. Nobody says, “it”, because it has negative connotations in reference to people.

But I wonder about other languages. I’m not sure this is much of an issue in gender-neutral languages such as Korean, Chinese, or Hindi, because third-person pronouns do not differentiate between male and female. However, Chinese has a slight catch. In the written language, “he” and “she” have different characters but the same pronunciation. I imagine that people who don’t conform to binary identities figure something out for themselves, but I’m not sure how it would work. Languages in general are oriented toward binary identities in people and animals, because that’s how people have classified them, simply as categorization technique. It was a question of survival. By recognizing whether something was male or female, you could adjust how you behaved or what you did in response. But in the modern era, where non-binary identities are becoming more commonplace, you have to wonder if language will take the same turn. People failed to reform English to have number-sensitive pronouns, so I’m not sure it will happen with English.

If you have something to say about this, I’d love to hear it. I’m not at all familiar with gender theory, so I can’t really say much more than I have already. Please share this on Facebook, Google Plus, and Tumblr!

Fluency Revisited: 3 Things That It Is and That It’s Not

A few months back, I did a couple of posts regarding the objective of foreign language study: achieving fluency. I did several posts on the definition of fluency, and the levels thereof. Looking back on those posts and considering my views now, I think I need to revise my definition fluency. I’m going to talk about some of the things what it is and what it’s not. This is by no means an exhaustive list. So, here we go!

What fluency is:

1. Literacy

This is one thing that hasn’t really changed for me. I don’t think you can be called fluent in a language unless you can express yourself in all three modes of communication: reading, writing, and speaking. While most people think of speaking when it comes to fluency, I think that in order to master a language, which is fluency, you need to be literate. In fact, the first order of business when you’re learning a language with a different script should be learning it. The best way to acquire more vocabulary is reading, and if you don’t have many opportunities to speak, you should be familiar with the writing in the target language, especially when you’re talking with someone in a chat window on some social network.

2. Interpretation

Interpretation is the exchange of the spoken language through speaking and listening. You need to be able to process and react to the spoken language, using the target language in both instances. It’s not really enough to get the gist, because you may miss certain nuances, such as sarcasm, irony, or jokes. You can’t claim to know a language when you understand everything being said, but cannot respond.

3. Cultural conventions

A big mistake that I see with a lot of people in language classes is literally translating whatever they’re trying to say from English. It is important to understand that people who speak one language do not think in the exact same way as the people who speak another language. This is evidenced by the fact there are words that don’t necessarily translate to or from other languages. You need to learn how people use idioms, how certain words fit into certain contexts.

Another thing about this is that you cannot automatically use another language the way you would your own. Just because you talk casually with just about everyone doesn’t mean that it’s appropriate in another language. That’s not the culture. For example, in most Romance languages, it is not up to you to decide when you can use the “tu” form to address someone who you’ve become good friends after a long time. It is considered polite to either ask (though that is a bit more forward), or wait for that person to give you express permission. And don’t think people won’t notice. They will.

What fluency is not:

1. Being a scholar/academic

Let’s be honest: the majority of the speakers of any language are not professors. And by no means can learners be expected to acquire such advanced skill. Being an intellectual requires the study of advanced texts and learning of a much higher degree, which you can only consider when you actually know the language to begin with.

2. Being a native

Don’t let any teacher or anyone else tell you that fluency precludes anybody who didn’t grow up speaking the language. This is by no means true, because you can learn to acquire that facility by immersing yourself in the environment where the language is spoken (after some time studying the language of course). That’s how children learn: they’re immersed in the language, and know how to use it only after much trial and error.

3. Taking only classes

You need to get out into the world, where people use the language for their everyday lives. Get yourself out of your bubble, your little comfort zone, where all you ever do is take tests and answer questions. Sure, you can practice conversations in class; but even then, everything is scripted. Knowing the language in theory isn’t everything.

So, there’s something else for you to think about. Remember, these are just my opinions, not definitive facts. Take them as you will. Please share this on Facebook, Google Plus, and Tumblr! Leave any comments if you have something to say about this topic.