Due to a new awesome course I’m taking, (more on this to come) I’ve been thinking a lot about my identity and how being in a different culture and surrounded by a language that’s not my mother tongue, affects my identity.
I’ve talked before about how growing up I was only allowed to watch movies in English. Now, I’ve come to realize how beneficial this has been for me, but there’s nothing like a university experience to make you question everything you know. So I’ve come to reflect lately: did I lose anything or miss out on anything (besides questionable translations of children’s cartoons, of course) when I became completely surrounded by English? If language and identity are so interlinked, am I missing a part of my identity?
Well to answer this I might as well quickly explore if English and its attached culture has in any way taken over or replaced Spanish in my life or the Latin, Colombian-Ecuadorian culture in me.
First thing that comes to mind is that because I was in contact with English constantly, since I not only watched TV and movies in English but also read books and listened to music exclusively in that language, the only times that I had contact with Spanish was when I was speaking it. Thus it is often for me easier to communicate in my second language. This doesn’t mean that I am any less proficient in Spanish than in English, but because I am in contact more often with one than the other it is often easier to express myself. For instance, could I write this without stumbling constantly over the idiomatic expressions in Spanish? Probably not; even in high school in Ecuador(i.e a Spanish-speaking country) it was far easier for me to write in English than Spanish (I needed google translate to translate from English, not to it).
I don’t doubt that when an individual doesn’t use a certain language often enough, they become less proficient in its use. I’ve seen it happen, not only to bilingual speakers but also with people who go live in a place where their first language is not the one widely used there. I can constantly sense this when a Spanish word drops from my mind and I have to resort to code switching (linguistics lingo for mixing two or more langugages while speaking) more often than not. More so, I noticed, because I am studying linguistics, that even when I introduced myself I stopped pronouncing my name, last name included, the Spanish way, like an Anglophone would, not how I would normally pronounce it. /i s a β̞ e l/ à [ɪzəbɛl] (You didn’t think that I would miss out on showing how much of a linguistics nerd I am, did you?
The other thing is that I feel like foreign influence and the idea of a “well rounded education” has forced my own culture to take a backseat in my education in favor of others. For example, despite living in Ecuador for fifteen years I have little knowledge on its history, economy, or political environment. Maybe they gained independence from the Spanish in 1820ish? And the first president was called Flores? And of Colombia, my own country I of course know absolutely nothing. But I can, however, recite the entire history of both world wars, a conflict neither country, Ecuador or Colombia, took part in (I think.)
If I, who grew up surrounded by my own native culture, speaking my native tongue on a daily basis which is used all over the world, who was taught (although not a lot ) about her history and overall grew up in all ways secure of my identity; struggle to keep it present and pertinent, how massive is the struggle that the people trying to keep the aboriginal languages and cultures alive now a days face! How hard is it to keep their tongue alive when they not only live in the middle of a country that doesn’t widely speak share the same language, but they also live in a modern world greatly encourages and favors the use of English or others. Finally it seems proper to me to end this reflection with the following question: Can culture and diversity survive the modern “globalized” time?