Following up on my last post, a ramble of thoughts I had on language and the idea of fluency, which was meant to be nothing academic, has lead to something academic. I received some comments with further ideas and those who had actually studied a topic looking at this, Second Language Acquisition (SLA).
Since then, I’ve read whatever I can find online, and it’s lead me to reading theories on metalinguistic awareness/multilingualism/bilingualism/polyglots.
Simply put, a polyglot is a person who can speak several languages, therefore being bilingual or multilingual. What I’m really interested in at the moment is Third Language Acquisition (TLA), that being the process of learning a third language, which is what I’m currently doing with Italian.
Today officially marks the first week of me learning my third language! This means I’ve taken the leap, which puts me ahead of others, but I am by no means an expert in this academic topic. I simply want to share my ideas and listen to other people’s ideas and I’ve found it very easy to read some of the academic theory on SLA and TLA, which has been surprising.
I’ve crammed a hell of a lot in to a week with my Italian learning. I’m trying not to overwhelm myself, which has been a challenge for me. Anyone who knows me, knows I like to do everything at once. However, before starting this process, I know I had to take it slow and realise that I have a lot of time to fit everything in, and I don’t need to push myself.
Despite that, as I said, I have done a lot. I’ve learned the basic phrases and some vocabulary and today, after a week, I’ve started on the present tense regular verbs.
Today, whilst doing this, I hit a wall. I’m not going to lie, I feel a bit overwhelmed with how much there actually is to do. This has also made me realise the extent of my knowledge in French, and how much time and effort I’ve put in to learning French. I find myself constantly thinking back to high school, and how the teachers approached the verb learning process, and how much time to spend on this so that it is really drilled in to the brain. However, I’m trying not to focus on this and to just take the learning process at my own pace and see how I do.
Anyway, what I really want to talk about is the idea of a ‘polyglot’. I find it to be a very attractive word amongst all the academic lingo the theorists use on the academic fields of SLA and similar topics.
When I first arrived in France, the idea of becoming bilingual/multilingual/being a polyglot was a distant concept. This was someone who was ‘perfect’ in the foreign language, someone who never made mistakes. To me, there was also always a stigma put on these people who could speak other languages; they weren’t normal people like me, they were very intelligent, worldly people.
Even now, the idea of putting the title of a ‘polyglot’ on myself makes me cringe a little bit. I see polyglots as those who are higher than others. But they are not, and I don’t know why I put this stigma on the word, and if other people even have this view of polyglots.
The main question I want to focus on, through my very limited knowledge of SLA, and which is strongly linked to my last post, is when does someone become a polyglot?
Some of Vivian Cook’s theories touch on this idea. He discusses what he terms ‘multi-competence’, simply the knowledge of more than one language in one person’s mind. He separates those who learn a second language ‘L2 learner’ and those who use their second language ‘L2 user’.
I think this is a very important distinction and one that I’ve questioned in the (very short) week that I’ve been learning Italian. The difference between learning a language and using a language is huge. In my personal opinion, I feel like a real ‘polyglot’ is an L2 user, someone who actually uses the language, instead of just learning it. In order to become bilingual and to be able to reach fluency, you have to use this language. However, if you’re doing both, you’re definitely winning.
There is also some interesting discussion in the TLA field that mentions that the second language almost gets in the way when learning a third language. A good example was when I was writing out the vocab for weekdays in Italian. For sabato, I wrote a mix between the English ‘Saturday’ and the French ‘samedi’, so I wrote samedy. Next, when I wrote out domenica, I instantly wrote the French ‘dimanche’ instead of the English ‘Sunday’. My brain feels like a melting-pot of English and French, almost at the point where it can’t distinguish the two, but at the same time, it can. There’s probably an academic term for this but j’ai la flemme to look it up.
This process of learning a new language, and discovering a new love for the academic fields of SLA and TLA, and maybe soon FLA, fourth language acquisition (does this even exist?), has been great and I’m going to continue to read up and hopefully share some insight from others. I can feel the incroyable improvements I’ve made with my French over the past 7/8 months that I’ve been here and I feel so lucky to even be here. I’m currently lying in bed with the sun covering my legs, listening to two kids playing telling each other to “ta gueule”.
My improvements are becoming more and more noticeable. I remember during the first few months, I’d become so frustrated when I couldn’t understand what someone was talking about when I’d hear them in a café/restaurant, but now I understand pretty much everything. And I can identify most French accents and can always identify if someone isn’t a native French person. I’d love to know when this switch happened, but I’ll just be grateful it happened at all.
However, I haven’t quite ‘mastered’ French yet which leaves me questioning my decision to tackle a third language… but, I feel like it’s time. I have the motivation and the passion to see it through and so, I will continue, and I am sure I will love the process.