A complete archive of all of my posts about culture, with a focus on a philosophical analysis of language and its influence on thinking and identity.
Finding motivation in language learning Todd Neve Of course we would all love to speak another language. But few are willing to commit the time to learn it. Even less are able to stay motivated for the time and effort it takes to become fluent. My own language journey started in school, like everyone else’s. And like almost everyone around me, I bitterly despised those French classes. It felt like I was being forced to learn what I couldn’t possibly hope to achieve without living in France for twenty years. It was not until I was in my gap year that I started to learn another language again: this time, Spanish – with a fresh attitude. Then earlier this year, with the generous help of the Walter Mangold trust fund, I was able to travel to Madrid on exchange and make the leap to fluency. So what was the difference this time? Truthfully, I was not incapable of learning a language. I just hadn’t applied myself. The difference was all about my level of motivation. So here is my practical guide to finding your motivation and staying motivated. An important first step to take is to truly convince yourself that speaking another language is possible. Reach out to someone who was in a similar situation and successfully learnt to speak a new language. It’s not enough to hear or read about a stranger’s experiences. For me this involved seeing friends (including Dan) return from exchange, fluent in other languages. Without someone to inspire you, you’ll always find an excuse to give up. The next step is to clearly define your reasons for learning the language. From my experience in sport, athletes will often train the hardest when improvement will bring the opportunity to travel to cool places and most importantly meet exciting, new people. How can speaking the language make your life more exciting? Start with clear reasons that inspire you. For most language learners, these reasons will relate to the country’s people and their culture. If you’re looking to improve career prospects, have a well-defined job in mind that you are passionate about. Be clear about how speaking the language will help you get it. Next, find a way you’ll be able to use the language. The clearest (and most fun) solution is to move overseas, especially if this is your first time learning a language. Pick somewhere you’d really love to live and find a reason to live there – to work, study, volunteer or even learn to salsa. Make it clear and make it happen. You should aim to be at an intermediate level when you get there. If you are in the early stages, I would recommend a year of learning before heading off. Of course it will depend a lot on your circumstances, but if anything you should head off sooner rather than later. Not only is it hard to stay motivated for something so far off, but remember Parkinson’s law: the more time you allot to a task, the harder it will seem. Now you’ve defined your reasons for learning the language, the biggest challenge will be to maintain your motivation. First and simplest is to cut out anything that might hurt your motivation. It is best to avoid associating the language with...read more
This is my second culture post! The other one was about dualistic identities coming from being raised in two culturally distinct environments (a guest post by Ian Liu). This one is about my own experiences as the only Australian in a French (and French-speaking) workplace.——————————————————————— Imagine this: you’re the new guy at work, and it’s your first day. Between being ordered around and abused in a foreign language, you are expected to make the restaurant run smoothly. It’s worth mentioning that this restaurant is a French Crepêrie, and that you are the sole Australian. Also, you’re the only staff member who knows how to say more than “ze food was is good?” in English. Unfortunately, even though you are in Australia – in this environment, you are the foreigner, not them. Time to bring out that French you learnt in High School? Good idea, mate, but even if you can speak the language of love, you’re still likely to have some problems. Culture and identity carries as much weight as words when it comes to communication. This said, language and culture are intertwined – organic, ever changing and each unable to exist independently of the other. Ironically, these seem to be the only factors that remain constant between them. An understanding of one does not automatically result in an understanding of the other. For instance – one could, potentially, know all there is to know about the development of the modern French mentality and culture, without ever speaking the language. And, conversely, one could foreseeably become fluent in the French language without speaking to many French people (for instance if they mainly spoke with second-language speakers) and would therefore struggle to build any meaningful relationship with a French person, this time because of the cultural barrier rather than the linguistic one. This dichotomy between language and culture is exemplified by the demand to study a wide range of different languages at school and at University. People will always be motivated to learn what they find engaging, and, seeing as there is arguably no single topic or subject in this world that could be claimed to be ‘universally interesting’, it would be therefore unrealistic to conclude that a certain, single language could possibly be ‘beautiful’ to everyone, either. Take, for example, French, a language that is, despite this, widely perceived as being ‘romantic’, and even ‘beautiful’ – although this stereotype is perhaps the product of the way it is portrayed in popular culture and in the media. Nevertheless, this image is seemingly at contrast with the well-known stereotype of the French people themselves, who are often considered snooty, inhospitable and self-impressed. Note that your author does not subscribe to this belief! How is it possible that a culture can be so different from the language that belongs to it? We’re treading on delicate ground here, and at the risk of sounding prejudiced, I’m going to suggest that although they are usually outdated, the result of misinterpretations, or simply incorrect – stereotypes are usually the product of observable phenomenon. That doesn’t mean anything, anyway, since I would argue that any behaviour adopted by a human could surely be manifested in another person from any other given race. But I digress. If you liked my little anecdote about the Crêperie, it may...read more
Hey guys! Today is a special day, marking not only the first guest post to be published on this blog, but also the first culture piece, written by my good friend Ian Liu, with whom I study Law at University. His article provides an interesting and unique insight into life as a young immigrant and coming to terms with having a ‘double identity’. Enjoy! ———————————————————————————- Hello, dear readers, I am Ian Liu, a first generation Chinese immigrant who settled in Australia at the age of 7. Having being born in China, but having grown up and educated in Australia, my Chinese learning journey is distinctive in many ways, whether it be compared to the Australian Born Chinese contingent or the learners who have no background in China whatsoever. My identity and belonging has always been a hotly debated topic. Am I Australian? Am I Chinese? In Australia I am considered Chinese, whilst in China I am considered Australian. The political discourse and policies of Australia are set to preserving the “true blue Aussie culture”, with clear nation state sovereignty at play, exemplified in the recent asylum seeker issue. One term I hear often is “if you don’t love Australia then go back to where you come from”. We as a society fail to realise that migrants exhibit an ambivalent discourse towards their adopted homeland as well as their origin countries, and that just because a certain individual does not like one element of the country it does not prevent them from embracing all the other underlying expectations. I know many migrants who are more “Australian” in many ways than the stereotypical blonde haired blue eyed Australian surfer. Migrants are often forced to do 3D (dirty, dangerous, demeaning) jobs due to language barriers and lack of experience, contributing to the secondary labour-intensive sector of the economy. Many jobs would be non-existent if it were not for the immigrants, who stimulate the economy through their additions to the workforce, as well as bringing with them the direct creation of new jobs. The commonly held belief that immigrants take the jobs of locals is ridiculous, with no empirical evidence to back it up at all. Whilst many will claim that multiculturalism is prevalent within Australian society, in that the presence of communities from all parts of the world creates an acceptance of all forms of culture and ethnicity, all of these separate cultures must also assimilate into the dominant Anglo-Saxon culture in order to be recognised as Australian, exemplified through mechanisms such as the citizenship test, and the emphasis on the importance of English. For those not familiar with these government policies – potential immigrants must sit a test quizzing for knowledge about Australian culture and customs before they are granted residency, a requirement which has attracted much attention in the media, in particular in the form of claims that such policies are inherently racist and discriminatory. In any case, these measures seem to be a last effort by a conservative nation state to protect the politically recognised borders of its land. However, to accommodate for a globalising world, transnational identities such as my own, Chinese-Australia, will have to be facilitated and appreciated for the future of the nation. I am comfortable with my dualistic identity as a Chinese-Australian, with the Eastern...read more