Linguistic Autobiography: A Reflection

I wrote the following linguistic autobiography in the Fall of 2012 as a reflective task for the linguistic seminar “Principles of Language Learning and Teaching” taught by Nelleke Van Deusen-Scholl.

 

I am from Málaga, Spain, and my native language is Spanish. I began learning English in primary school and continued through high school. The main focus of the classroom was grammar study with priority given to reading and writing. I was not the best student back then, but English was the subject I enjoyed most. I have an aunt who lives in Massachusetts, and I spent a month with her and her family in the States at age 12. For the next few years I continued to visit them during the summer and while I was able to understand English, I was reticent to actually speak it except when needed. I also took Latin for two years (which I really enjoyed but didn´t truly remember when I had to take my PhD required Latin course two summers ago). I also wanted to take French in high school, but the school decided that my overall grades were not good enough and that I should take an “easier” subject. Regardless, I was eventually required to take French at the end of high school, but everyone in the class had already taken either two or four years of French. I remember struggling through the class and just wanting to pass the exams. After that, the only other foreign language that I have formally studied has been Portuguese.

When it came to choosing a major (which in Spain you do prior to starting university) it was clear to me that I wanted to study English Philology. I realized, much to my and everyone else’s surprise, that I was a very capable student if I studied things that I liked (This also taught me a lot about the negative effects of (self)labeling students as “good” or “bad”, and about different types of learners). After completing my BA and MA in English, I decided that I could continue studying what I loved, but this time in my native language. I find it linguistically curious that I have come to study/teach English in Spain and then study/teach Spanish in the States.

One of the hardest linguistic challenges has been coming to terms with my own native language and accent, as I sometimes encounter dialectal prejudices. One (well-intentioned) professor told me that my native accent was not “professional” and his comment caused me a great deal of self-consciousness. When I first began teaching Spanish, the textbooks often excluded Peninsular Spanish vocabulary and verb forms, and I felt it was unfair for my students that I used, for example, the “vosotros” form (the peninsular Spanish, second person plural pronoun). On the other hand, it did not seem natural to me to use “ustedes” and I was quite inconsistent, confusing both myself and my students. Then, one of my most linguistically enlightened professors helped me realize that my way of speaking was a way of integrating culture in the classroom. Since then, I work to make my students aware of the rich dialectal and cultural varieties that they can encounter in the Hispanic world.

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