Reflecting on my Language Biography

Maxime Lavallée

Hello! Having grown up in several countries and spoken different varieties of the same languages in different places, I decided to begin with a brief timeline for some context.

  • Born in Quebec to French-Speaking parents.
    • Native speaker of French.
  • Moved from Quebec to California at the age of nine.
    • Became a minority language speaker of French.
      • No prior knowledge of English before moving to California.
    • Went to primary school in English.
    • Continued on to high school in English.
      • Became indistinguishable from native speakers of English.
      • Adopted Californian vernacular and accent.
    • Moved to Australia at the age of sixteen.
      • Had to adapt to Australian English.
        • New vocabulary, sentence structure, cultural norms, spelling, and more.
          • Over time, adopted Australian vernacular and accent.
    •  Moved back to Quebec at the age of twenty-one.
      • Had to acclimate myself to Montreal English.
        • New vocabulary and cultural norms very different from Australia.
      • Found a job and made some serious improvements to my stagnating French.
      • Began to learn Spanish.
      • Adopted Montreal English vernacular and accent

Today, I consider myself more a native speaker of English than of French, even though I learned English much later in my life. I’ve also often had to ‘reinvent’ myself, with regards to the languages I speak, because I moved to countries with different sociolinguistic contexts. When we spoke about how context was a large part of sociolinguistics, it made me realize a few things about myself. Although I lived in three countries with relatively similar cultures (Canada, USA, Australia), the sociolinguistic differences still felt very significant to me. I believe that having experienced these different contexts as a student myself makes me better at understanding the experiences of some of my students. I like to think that I can in some way better empathize with the difficulties some students may be having on the basis of different sociolinguistic contexts.

We also touched on the subject of ‘native speaker-ism bias’ in class. Over the course of my studies, I have come to realize that one really does not need to be a native speaker to be an effective language teacher. I did not always think this way however, as I had once purposefully chosen a native language teacher over a non-native one before. One teacher’s name was Spanish, so I inherently believed them to be more qualified. Today, I find myself questioning what a native speaker really is, as I do not really consider myself a native speaker of either French nor English, but rather of both.

There is an inherent unfairness to this (I guess it’s considered as a bias for a reason), as I will always pass for a native speaker due to my physical appearance and my countries of residence, but others who may look physically different or come from different countries may not escape this bias. For example, I was looking for jobs just the other day when I saw an advertisement for ESL teacher positions in China. The requirements were to either have a degree in TESL, or be a resident of the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand or England (no degree in TESL needed). I can’t think of a much more pertinent example of this bias. Why would someone from England be any better at teaching English than an Iranian who studied how to teach the language for many years? This is such a wide topic with no clear answers, and I’m not quite sure how it pertains to my teaching practice yet. I hope this class will provide me with some answers!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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3 thoughts on “Reflecting on my Language Biography”

  1. Samuel: Thanks for sharing your language biography! What an interesting account of your various selves! I guess if you have learned English in a “natural” context in different countries, you must consider yourself a native speaker of English, because you haven’t had the experience of learning it in school. I guess when a teacher is native, there may be no consequences for the practice, because you cannot become non-native when you are. But, it you would interesting to explore to what extent metaknowledge about your first language might influence in similar ways how you teach your first language, maybe there is some overlap with what second language learner discover in a second language ? Thanks again for sharing!

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  2. It was the most inspiring language biography I’ve ever read, and I also liked the following sentence:”I have come to realize that one really does not need to be a native speaker to be an effective language teacher.”

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  3. Maxime,
    Thanks for your posting! As compared to mine, I really find your language biography is complicated. You mentioned that you had to change the spelling in Australia, which reminded me the time when I prepared for both IELTs and TOEFL. Initially, I decided to pursue my master degree in the US so I only took the TOEFL, which is widely accepted in the US. Because I got used to the spelling of American English, I just used it in the TOEFL. However, as I accepted the offer of admission from McGill. I had to take the IELTs, which would facilitate the process of getting students’ visa. As a result, I had to learn the British writing style as my friend told me that examiners in IELTs would like to deduct grades if examinees use American spelling in the writing section. That is why this process was very difficult for me because I had to acquire the differences between “-sation” or“-zation”, “-er” or “-re”, and “flavor” or “flavour”. However, when I was able to master some of these spellings, I merely scratch the surface and I have a lot to learn!

    Colinczayan comment 3

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