"The whole movement of life is learning" (Krishnamurti). "To be an act of knowing, then, the adult literacy process must engage the learners in the constant problematizing of their existential situations" (Freire). "Once you learn to read, you will be forever free" (Douglass). "I can learn anything I have the desire to learn" (White, S.G.).

Saturday, April 13, 2013

A Speaker of English

    I am a speaker of English.  This was not by choice; it was simply native.  In high school my choice was Russian.  The teacher was dynamic, lively and spoke the languages of the cold war; after six months a new teacher came in, rigid and uninspiring and I needed a tutor to survive the three required years.  Since then it is more of a novelty to tell people that I was going to save "us" during the cold war and a Russian tutor had to save me instead.  What I remember of the language is minimal; what I learned from the language is a great deal of respect.

    My recent experience with Spanish was more painful.  Maybe the high school pain of sitting with a tutor has faded over the years, but since then I have developed a fiercely competitive spirit to do my best at everything and in Spanish I had found an insurmountable challenge.  Two semesters later I finished with eight credits and a B average.  I’d never worked harder at anything in my life and I couldn’t speak Spanish now, five months later, to save my life.  I survived by memorizing, deleting and memorizing again.  It didn’t stick; I wasn’t truly committed to the language to save my life.  I wonder if I needed Spanish for my livelihood if I would have learned more, but then it’s not an experience I can fathom for I have English.  I have what many think may someday be the “common language”.

    I take a great deal for granted; English being one.  Many native English speakers do.  I understand English is the second most popular language (behind Mandarin) if we are looking at populations of native speakers, but many countries encourage their children to learn English as a secondary language which I imagine distorts the statistics, putting English near the top of the list of spoken languages.  How many international English conversations truly involve an English native I wonder?  Yet, with Spanish on the rise, will English survive as the common language?  I don’t know the ever-changing statistics.

     Why does the world consider being an English speaker so powerful?  Are great thoughts not thought in other languages?  Are we trying to separate cultures and language with the growth of English as a common language?  Are "we", the native English speaker trying to take some sort of control?  A person’s language is an integral part of who they are as a human.   Who gets to decide what common language gets used?  If we create a mainstream sort of society have we not lost many great thoughts across the language barriers?  Don’t we always lose something in a translation?

     Perhaps a common language is necessary to share knowledge, but with it so much is also lost.  I am jealous of those that can think/speak successfully in multiple languages.  They have the abilities which allow them to translate ideas to more people.  They also have the abilities to learn more from others.   I remain just a speaker of English.


  1. Hey Lisa - since I'm in "Methods" this semester I've had to read up on English(es), too. I attended a World Englishes workshop and learned the two main theories are 1) English will overtake all others and ultimately lead to "death" of heritage languages, 2)Arabic or Chinese (or other) will overtake English. Not sure what to think of that. The whole concept of World Englishes was also fascinating to me. The idea that someday no one country or people will "own" English makes me wonder how it will be used for power and influence. I can't believe their won't be a dominant English of some kind. What was the dominance-access struggle we read about?

  2. Lisa and Susan:

    I suppose I 'speak' another language, albeit rusty. I think my issue with any language is when it is corrupted or co-opted by the media. So many words mean so many different things now that it's a wonder that non-native English speakers learn the language. And there's (to me) no such thing as 'just' a speaker of English. It's such a rich language with bits and pieces of words that we've taken from other languages. And that doesn't even touch the words we make up to describe things that we don't have words for. I can't think of one at the moment, but I know I'm guilty of it sometimes. I read Get Fuzzy, and as bad as Bucky is with language, he's right that you can 'wordify' anything. FYI - Get Fuzzy is a comic strip published daily. I have the books as well.

  3. Dear Lisa and Susan,
    I really enjoyed reading your post, and it makes me think. It's the first time I hear how an American feel about being a native speaker in English. When I was in high school, I envied American and Englishmen a lot because you naturally acquire the language that others were striving to learn.
    It seems to be generally agreed that it is primarily the economic strength of the English-speaking countries that makes English the common language in the world. Accordingly, if the economic center shifts to the East, Easter languages will dominate international communication.
    But there is another reason for the popularity of English. As far as I know (please correct me if I'm wrong), English is a combination of several European languages, and is relatively simple in terms of its grammer and prononciation, which contribute to its popularity. But Easter Languages, such as CHinese and Arabic, seem to be much more distinctive and complicated for second language learners. Therefore, I doubt the possibility for these language to overtake the status of English as a global language.

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  5. To jump in...I spend a lot of time corresponding, collaborating with colleagues in Europe. My English competence (as a native speaker) gives me instant credibility AND resentment. Credibility because when I present at an English-based conference for multilingual participants, everyone understands me. Resented because I never have to know anything about their language (and by proxy, their customs, etc.). And I'm possibly the only monolingual in the room.
    I feel uncomfortable, but typically don't do much more than throw in a "token" word in Norwegian or Greek or Swedish. Hmmmm.

  6. I so enjoyed this post Lisa as I think you are conveying a student experience that many of us strive to not recreate for our own students! As teachers or facilitators we should strive to encourage learning while making it engaging and meaningful for our students; otherwise, as we fear, they will walk out with memorized text instead of true meaning. You also provide some wonderful questions regarding the use of the English language and the pressure possibly placed upon other cultures to include it in their own repertoire. But who should decide this and why are we not asked to also learn the language when we go to other countries or conduct business with them? An experience over the weekend and this post have really got my brain going....I have now gained inspiration for my own post this week I think with thanks to yours! Thanks Lisa:)


Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts on this post. Diverse opinions are welcomed.