Natalie’s Language Biography (or How I Learned Four Languages)

Natalie Lark

To begin with, I would like to mention that I was born and raised in Ukraine, where I learned Ukrainian and Russian at an early age, in addition to English, which was a part of the school curriculum. To better describe myself as a language learner, I would like to tell that I grew up in a bilingual family and community in the east of Ukraine, where everyone could easily switch the language of communication, if there was a need or to better understand each other; that is basically, similar to the way anglophones and francophones communicate in Quebec province, these days.

Moreover, I should admit that I originally came from the speech community, where people use Ukrainian words when they speak Russian, or on the contrary, they replace some Russian words by the Ukrainian ones, when they want to emphasize the importance of the information, exaggerate the meaning of some words or expressions, or pay attention to the hidden context of the facts, mentioned by someone, especially to quote politicians. For example, eastern Ukrainians say ti kapusta, which means you are a cabbage in English, when they talk about someone who has no will or cries a lot, whereas the expression vona krasiva (in Ukrainian) implies she is beautiful (in English) has a lexical mistake as krasiva is a Russian word wrong used in the sentence by eastern bilingual Ukrainian speakers instead of the word garna (Ukrainian) which means beautiful.

 Besides Russian and Ukrainian, I was obliged to learn English, at the age of five, because my parents wanted me to study English; therefore, I grew up speaking three languages – Russian, Ukrainian, and English, but the latter one I wouldn’t characterize as my successful language learning experience, owing to the lack of both input and output in the production and comprehension process. For sure, learning English in daycare and school once or twice a week wouldn’t be considered sufficient for any language learner who already has L1 language skills in his or her mind, but likewise in Quebec, school curriculum is formed and based on the government persuasions and rules.

However, when I moved to Canada (a few years ago), and started acquiring Canadian English and French, I realized that the English I learned in school, in the Eastern Europe, was quite different from the English spoken in Canada, especially in Quebec province; for instance, Montrealers say metro if they talk about underground like in British English, while subway is normally used by residents of Toronto and Americans. Another example that I would like to mention here would be the word pharmacy, this is how anglophones and francophones living in Montreal or in the whole Quebec province call the chemist’s store (in British English) or drug store (American English), which was something new and unusual for me to know.

In a nutshell, I found out that I was taught mostly British and American English, while Canadian English was something new that I have never heard about in my life. Because all English international exams are based on American or British English, I was naïve when I thought that Canadian English is a kind of American English, so after arriving in Quebec, I personally expected to be surrounded by American speakers only. Luckily, my sociocultural integration in Canada has been painless, due to the access to English and French public schools offered by Quebec government, where I learned a huge deal of information about Canadian English and French. Nowadays, I can proudly say that I speak four languages (Russian, Ukrainian, English, and French) that would never happen if I didn’t take a risk to explore the North America and start a new life overseas.





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