Matthew’s language biography!

Matthew

Hello everybody! In class, we were asked to think about our own language biographies and discuss them. This is also a great way of getting the ball rolling for the blog posts. It looks like I’m one of the first students to post anything, so here goes nothing.

Where to start? I’m originally from the north of England, but I’ve been in Montréal since 2008. My first language is English. It’s the language I grew up speaking and it’s the language I still speak for the majority at home. Since being in Montréal, I’ve come to realize the difference in how I use English between my home country and my adopted country. Actually, I tend to think I have two main English identities.

There’s the English I speak in Montréal, which is littered with North Americanisms. Then there’s my Northern English way of speaking, which I revert back to whenever I go home. This variety is full of vocabulary, expressions, and even grammatical differences that aren’t common in North America. What’s more, the variety of English I speak in my home county of Yorkshire is quite different to other parts of England. While strict Yorkshire dialect is really just spoken by older generations nowadays, the English spoken by people in Yorkshire still has plenty of old dialect features not used in the rest of the country. My awareness of these varieties of English means that I often adapt or modify how I speak English.

In terms of my second language, it’s important to start by saying that I grew up in a very monolingual part of England. As such, I had no real experience learning a second language until moving to Québec. After eight years here, I can say I’m relatively fluent in French. I work as an ESL teacher in a French high school, so I need to communicate with colleagues and parents and French on a regular basis. Also, my social circle outside of work is becoming more and more French, as my spouse and her friends are francophone and a lot of my old “anglo” friends have moved. This means that French is slowly but surely becoming more of a factor in my life. It’s probably obvious I learned my French through exposure and not academically, because my level of fluency is hampered by grammatical and vocabulary errors, as well as pronunciation difficulties. However, I’m proud to add French along with English to my “language biography” and I’m curious to see how it will progress in the future.

I’d like to wrap things up by briefly mentioning how much of a role my ‘language biography’ has had on my profession as an ESL teacher. Firstly, it must be said that I often get the impression people are assuming I’m an expert on English because of where I’m from. On the contrary, I don’t think I ever understood how my language works or how to frame it in a teaching context until I did my degree and then began teaching. The idea of “native speakerism” came up in class last week, and I suppose the former point can be related to this. Secondly, my own second language learning has helped me immeasurably in terms of how I situate myself as a second language teacher, in so far as I get the impression I can relate a lot more to how students acquire the language, what they’re experiencing, and what they’re looking for to improve.

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