Being in France for a month now, I have officially had three weeks of classes. Although adjusting to one four-hour long class everyday has been a challenge, I like my professors very much and am enjoying my classes (which are all in French and about French Culture/Civilization). However, I have a different professor everyday, thus, we have done many presentations introducing ourselves or a partner to the class.
In my case, after hearing everyone’s stories, I immediately start to think of what I know about my peer’s countries of origin. I try to imagine the culture that surrounded my classmates as they grew up and if possible, I imagine how their mindset may be different from that of an American. As my close friends and family also know, I absolutely love foreign languages. If I have the chance to learn another language, I will and I see it as another challenge. Thus, I think about basic words or phrases that I know, if any, in these languages.
Pondering different cultures and languages, naturally, I am lead down the path of stereotypes. Of course, we all know not all stereotypes are true. Yet, what got me thinking was the idea that the French language is known to be the language of romance, (as my host mother says) Italian is the “language that sings,” and German is known to be a very strong, direct language- although in my opinion I think it is beautiful.
Yet what is English? Sure, I am aware of basic American stereotypes, but I have never known what others think of the English language. Thus, I took it upon myself to ask people (new friends, classmates, professors, my host mother etc..) to describe the English language using two or three adjectives with a brief explanation as to why these were the first few words each came to mind.
Overall, the top responses were:
- In my opinion, I was quite surprised when I heard not only one, but EVERY person I spoke with call the English language “beautiful.” Maybe, this is not how we, as native speakers, perceive our mother tongue, yet it was unanimous. I was told each time that I spoke with someone that the language has “une belle sonnerie-” a beautiful ring.
- Truthfully, I don’t like to think of any language as “universal” because I personally believe that a universal language would void the world of different cultures. Yet, I will not deny with those whom I spoke with that English is commonly used all over. As mentioned in my previous blog, it is so useful, it is no longer useful anymore. It is essentially an expectation for people to speak, or have a basic understanding of, English.
- As we know, many great works were the product of some incredible anglophone playwrights. Shakespeare alone wrote Hamlet, Othello, Much Ado about Nothing, Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet… the list goes on, but we have all read them. Thus, it is only logic that when learning English, one must read the old English too- just as I have read the works of many great French writers.
Overall, this was a topic that I had never thought about. As we know, there are so many stereotypes surrounding Americans (of course not all true), yet I am surprised that after spending all of my time in high school and college looking out in admiration at other languages and cultures, I had never considered what it was like from the outside looking back in…
Although, I do suppose it is easier being out of the country for a semester!