linguistic identities

We have visitors this week.  Family from Yorkshire, including one of the kids’ cousins.  He’s seven. They’re six and eight. They’ve only ever seen him for a couple of hours at a time before. They’re really excited about getting to know him and having him here “full time”.  Before he arrived I was wondering about the dynamics, you know,  two boys, one girl, three’s a crowd and all that, but it’s all working out really well, and they’re making their cousin feel “right at home”.

One of the main things they’ve done, and the inspiration for this post, is modify the way they speak.  They’re always pretty good at dropping their Spanglish when there are non Spanish speakers around, and interpreting for visitors when necessary (and even when not necessary). But this time they’ve taken it a step further – they’ve adopted Yorkshire accents – and they’re getting broader by the day. 

And this is where we come to the rub of it – I’m feeling left out!  I can’t do the same.  It’s not really acceptable for an adult to suddenly switch linguistic regional allegiance, it would sound too much like taking the mick – and anyway, I’d be no good at it!  And the language politics have changed, and with it my linguistic identity, subtly but undeniably.   Whereas before English was our home language, an intimate, private conversation, in the middle of a Spanish speaking world, their “Yorkshire” is different, it’s created a new grouping.  It’s theirs, and their dad’s and their uncle and their aunt’s and their cousin’s –  but it’s not mine.  It’s fascinating and it’s reminded me to revisit this topic – language and identity, how it opens doors on who we are and how we see ourselves – and explore it with my students.

It’s interesting to explore the role of different languages in a bi-lingual setting, for example in the North of Spain, or with students living and studying in a foreign language setting, to see which language fits most closely with which aspect of your life, with each social and personal role you take on.  It works with dialects too. I used to discuss it a lot with my students in Italy; when and how and why they used the local dialect – with who and whether they felt any different. 

And I realized I haven’t talked about it with my students here in the South of Spain, and I’d very much like to.  It set me thinking about a possible lesson plan, and from writing the plan in my mind, I decided to get it down “on paper”.

I’ve got a low intermediate class in mind.  I think I’ll kick off with a brainstorming session of the vocabulary for family members (safe ground to start off with).  Then I’ll ask the students which they are ie I’m a mum (I have two kids), I’m a sister (I have two brothers), I’m an aunt (just the once – a little niece) … and ask them to compare their answers.  

I’ll then ask the students to think about what other roles they have e.g. teacher, student, customer, friend, neighbour ….. .  Once we’ve collated these I’ll ask them to think about the languages they speak and which languages fit with which role (think not discuss at this stage). I’ll model an answer of my own before handing it over to them.  As I model I’ll bring in the idea not only of national languages but also dialect, and accent and variety.   

I reckon it’ll spark some interesting discussion, and hopefully some great learning opportunities.  Or then again it might just fall flat on its face …

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