Language Learner Becomes Language Teacher Learner
We begin learning language as babies. Our language expertise continues to grow and develop through childhood and beyond. Educators often speak of lifelong learning. Language learning too becomes a part of that lifelong learning journey.
I first began learning French at 11 years old. I have always been a deep thinker. Learning a new language presented the greatest cognitive challenge I had ever experienced, and I loved it. I loved my teacher, I loved the thinking, and I loved the classroom community of that first year. It was unlike anything I had experienced ever before. I felt changed, even then. Seldom in my life have I ever been conscious of my own growth in quite the same way. Sure, in retrospect it is possible to reflect and notice growth. But those first years of French were different, and the results of my efforts were entirely audible.
I received the gift of deep thinking and meaningful learning about cultural knowledge.
My love for French only grew with time. I came to better understand the nuances of language, even my first language, through this learning. I embraced the “other” in a way I had never done before. This transformed me into a better version of myself. I was learning French at the time of 1995 Referendum, so I became aware of the divisions of this country in ways I likely never would have done otherwise. I received the gift of deep thinking and meaningful learning about cultural knowledge.
I took, and continue to take, every opportunity to extend my language expertise. There is significant research which explores the ideologies surrounding “native-speaker” and “non-native speakers” which can cause bilinguals to question their competency in one language (or both). While French was a clear passion of mine, and I excelled at it in my studies, it was difficult to know if others would consider me truly bilingual. I am not alone with these questions. Much investigation into ideals and definitions surrounding bilingualism has occurred in the academic arena.
How do you know you are good enough? I know I will ever be learning French. I commit to continue to extend my capabilities not because I think I am lacking but because this learning brings me joy. I became a teacher in part to share this passion for learning with others. But, I didn’t take it for given that I would teach French. I needed some outside validation. I needed to hear from others that I was enough. Sure I could hear mistakes made by others, including “native” speakers, and I could read and view most anything without difficulty. But, there would always be words I don’t know. It took accepting that this is true for me in both my languages, in order to get to a place where I could sit with it and feel ok. Scientific terms, rare cooking instruments, and other highly subject specific language would be newly discovered at the right time. So, then the question becomes do you sound like other speakers? We could talk about accents for days. All kinds of French speakers have conflicting opinions here. I still remember by first French teacher saying that in time I would just come to know if something sounded right in French. He was right.
The validation I needed came from many places. In time, I became language teacher learner. I have new definitions of bilingual now, and I don’t doubt my expertise the way I once did. My passion for the language remains strong.