Language is not something I really think about on a day-to-day basis. Most of the time, I just go through my day freely communicating with ease and not running into any language-related problems. I feel like this is the way a lot of native English speakers living in America feel, and I’ve found that it is a very ignorant way of thinking. Everyone should acknowledge that being fluent in English is a major privilege that is often overlooked or taken for granted by native speakers.
During my first conversation session at ALI, I was talking with an international student specifically about what our high schools were like. He said that he had a few required classes that he had to take during high school, and that one of them was four years of English. I mentioned that I was also required to take a foreign language and my conversation partner was puzzled by this, and he questioned me on why I would be required to learn any other language besides English. This forced me to step back and think more deeply about English.
My conversation partner’s statement is sad but true, because in a practical sense, if you know English, there is not a need to know any other language because of English’s dominance in the world. This is unfortunate, because it is not fair to rate languages above each other because it creates a big disadvantage to those who are not native English speakers, and thus they are given the burden of learning another language (usually English) out of necessity.
This summer, I am spending six weeks in Paris, France, where I am taking a Public Policy in the European Union course through the American University of Paris. I have been in Paris for 3 weeks now and I am so grateful for all of my experiences and for all of the amazing people that I have met here thus far. I selected this course because I saw that it would cover migration in the EU, a concept which interests me given recent events. Since being here, we have talked about models of integration and governance, citizenship, and the concept of belonging for specific groups within Europe, like Roma and refugee populations.
After I finish this course, I will be traveling throughout Italy to conduct independent research on people’s opinions of immigrants in light of the recent elections. While I have been here in Paris, I have kept up with the current situation in Italy. The most alarming event thus far has been the newly elected government’s choice to begin turning NGO boats carrying immigrants in life threatening situations away from Italian ports. During the same period, we have seen the US immigration policy take a dark turn with the President’s decision to separate families at the border.
Unfortunately, more and more countries, particularly within the EU, are choosing to close doors instead of open them. Politicians with anti-immigration stances often ignore the positive impacts that immigrants have had on their countries, economically and otherwise, and, instead, push rhetoric fueled by emotional reactions related to isolated cases that show immigrants in a negative light, resolutely bypassing statistics that display the positive impacts because these facts negate their wayward position.
In my junior (third) year of high school, I visited London and Paris with a handful of my classmates. My high school, the wonderfully fictional-sounding High Tech High, had something called “Intersession”. The week before spring break, every student was free to choose something they wanted to take part in for a week. Every event was hosted by the teacher, and it was usually something along the lines of surfing, or visiting restaurants, or, the one I usually chose, creative writing. Some offered international trips, like snorkeling in Belize, and, of course, a trip to London and Paris.
It was in the months leading up to this trip that I started to learn French. I went online, to websites offering free lessons, and learned as much as I could. Much alluded me (like the pronunciation), but I learned basic phrases, numbers, how to say what time it was, how to ask if there was a bakery nearby. “Est-ce qu’il y a une boulangerie près d’ici?” was the first phrase that I fully memorized, and prided myself for doing so. I also learned the art of being exceptionally annoying. Well, I don’t know if it took me until age 16 to be annoying, but I certainly perfected it by then.As a teen with a newfound knowledge of basic French, not to mention, a complete fixation on Doctor Who, I was an unstoppable tirade of irritation to those around me. Every conversation was an opportunity to bring up something cultural or etymological, some examples include, “Hey guys, Allons-y! Right guys? Right?” and “Oh man, counting by tens is so weird in French!” (I caught myself bringing up the latter topic recently and could tangibly feel the loathing that the other person was emitting).