In the United States, K-12 approaches to acquaint students with languages other than English vary wildly, from fully immersive programs (teaching a second language alongside English in different subjects), to a handful of Spanish in Senior year of high school. This variety ebbs and flows based on the cultural climate around the school systems, and the emphasis given to familiarizing students to language compared to STEM courses (I won’t begin digging up other issues related to humanities/art program cutting in this blog, but it is an issue running alongside the foreign language acclimation).
Within my K-12 system, I didn’t touch a foreign language until 8th grade, where we were required to enroll in a Spanish 101 course (no other languages were offered). It was my first official introduction to beginning to communicate in a language other than English, barring bits and pieces I’d fallen upon by just studying English (Latin, Greek, etc… are of course where much of English’s roots lie and bleed through from, but I don’t of course count this as some sort of true language acquisition).
I took to Spanish with a fervor, so much so that it apparently made an impression on the teacher at the time to the point that she suggested I practice teaching a lesson to the class!
I was a shy student though, friendly but fairly introverted, so I didn’t take up the offer; however, I did remember the excitement of being able to swap languages to express my ideas, even at the most simplistic level, and so continued with Spanish throughout my high school career. Sadly, with a variety of teaching styles and level of language intensity, I felt like my abilities in Spanish plateued due to a lack of challenge in the classroom, and fluency was not attained. At most, today I can read and understand a good portion of Spanish text to perhaps an intermediate level, but it is so sparsely used in my daily life that it has continued to slip away…
Picking up after high school, I decided to switch gears from Spanish (likely due to the fact I felt discouraged by my inability to readily utilize it after so many years) to Eastern languages, in particular Japanese. I spent a Dual-enrollment course learning Chinese 101, which was a great experience, but found myself gravitating towards Japanese instead due to a slightly deeper interest in their culture; and, well, I’d only have to learn a few thousand Kanji (complex symbolic characters) along with a handful of phonetic characters, versus tens of thousands of Hanzi.
Over my years in Undergrad I worked my way through Japanese 101 and 102, following up with “Business Japanese” or a deeper discussion on formal situations, but was unable to find time to take the intermediate level. Interestingly enough, by the end of these courses I did feel much more confident in actually using Japanese in a casual conversation, even though I’d only studied it for a year! My bet is that it had to do with being forced to use it in the classroom when communicating versus the lackadaisical approach a few of my high school Spanish teachers had…
Recently, after beginning my time at graduate school, I made the decision to begin studying these languages once more, but was uncertain how to begin. Since that moment, I’ve worked on identifying the answer(s) to that uncertainty through apps, books, videos and just spur of the moment research, in order to once again begin my journey to fluency!
Thus, this blog will revolve around my journey to regain what I had once learned about Spanish and Japanese, as well as bits of other languages I pick up along the way (such as Chinese and Korean, as I currently work with many wonderful international colleagues with whom happily share some of their native expertise!).
It will not be a “daily life” episodic adventure of my journey, but more a bit-by-bit approach to interesting phrases I find out about, or history of characters that fascinate me, or perhaps dialogues between characters using newly learned vocabulary and grammar.
On occasion, I will also try to write up blog posts completely in the other language for writing practice, with a translated copy below it. Maybe I’ll even write up some LenTime Stories in other languages as well!
Until next time…