Monday, September 17, 2007

Language of Love & Love of Language

Answer A: French.

Answer B: A description of my continual fascination with the non-American approach to communicating with the world.

A collision of norms is something that happens when one travels, much less moves, to a foreign country. To a European, this week’s Linköpinglivin’ topic will be old news and boring because everyone speaks at least two languages - that's just normal. However, to the American, 98% of whom speak confidently in only one language, the topic of language can be filled with amazement. During my time in Sweden, I continue to be impressed by the ability of Europeans to speak multiple languages and I have two illustrations that "speak" to this ability:

Illustration 1:
Last winter I called a friend of mine from Germany who was an au pair in Linköping. Judith was already talking on the home phone line to another friend who is German and I was on her cell phone. Meanwhile, as the responsible au pair, Judith was also speaking with and taking care of the Swedish children with whom she was living. Envisioning this scene, I clarified, “So, Judith, you’ve got me on your cell phone speaking English, Stine on the home phone speaking German and you’re speaking with the kids in Swedish all at once?” Matter of factly and without sharing my impressed tone, Judith responded “yes.”

Just another day in Europe….

Illustration 2:
Sara is someone I met this weekend. Speaking with her in English and knowing she attended a Swedish-speaking school, I knew Sara spoke at least two languages. However, Sara had recently moved from Lebanon where she had become quite comfortable with Arabic and, somewhere along the line, Sara had also picked up French. Sara knew four languages quite comfortably. Sara is 12 years old!

Admittedly, this is impressive even by European standards. I walked away humbled as my Swedish language acquisition is currently stagnant.

Swedish elementary school students begin learning English in 3rd grade. They begin a third language (usually German, French or Spanish) in 9th grade. When they graduate from high school they know at least three languages and are well equipped to learn a lot more. Impressive.

As Americans, we miss out on an enriching cultural experience when our only language learning in high school consists of merely fulfilling requirements. There’s just rarely the motivation to dive into a new language when one knows they probably will never use it outside of school. Here in Europe, they know they will use it, and enjoy using it, most of their lives. Perhaps with globalization current American students can learn, knowing they will actually use the language, and not as something to fulfill an empty requirement in order to graduate….

The last of my expected visitors were here this past weekend. Two former students at the University of Washington, Zach Tobin and Niki Iglesias, concluded a European trip of the big three (London, Paris, Rome), Prague and Linköping (!), yes, and also Stockholm. “Tack” for making the effort to come all the way up here to the Arctic, Zach and Niki. It was a pleasure to have you in Sverige. On the subject of language, by the way, Zach took Russian in college for no particular reason other than an appreciation of the culture. Nice work, Zach.

Pictures above:
1. A summertime dusk picture of Stockholm harbor taken by my Dad.
2. The biggest Dalarna Horse you will find in the world is in Skansen - that's my cousin, Ashley, too.
3. They have miniature golf in Sweden. It's the hardest miniature golf on the planet. I got a 10 on this hole.
4. Zach and Niki in Stora Torget, Linköping.
5 Zach and Niki discover American-sized kanelbullar (cinnamon buns) in Stockholm's Gamla Stan.


Anonymous said...

haha, I guess you haven't been to Dalarna, the home of dalahästarna. THEY are big. :)


Anonymous said...

Trilingual communication - Judith is really amazing, isn't she? Thanks for giving her the honour to be mentioned in your blog! Yes, it actually is exciting to learn foreign languages and than use them to understand and communicate with interesting and pleasant people like you are, Sean! Best wishes for your second Swedish autumn, Regina

Sanjarski said...

So really, is the language of love French? I have nothing against the French- in fact it rocks- but what about other languages- don't want to hurt their feeling now.. How about, say, Georgian? :) They deserve some recognition with their cool alphabet- or say, maybe Gaelic is the language of love? Or elvish or Esperanto; I have 2 friends who want to raise their kids speaking Klingon... what do you think? :)

Annika T said...

Swedish kids start to learn a third language i grade 7, not grade 9... and then its possible to start learning a fourth in Senior highschool ("Gymnasiet" in Swedish) but most kids just continue whith the third on a higher level. (the second one i.e. English is compulsory even in Senior high..)