Language identity crisis

Posted by on October 26, 2010

Final week of Spanish English month starts with a guest post from Seville by blogger Nina Lauder, freelance author, teacher trainer and educational consultant.

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Needless to say, after over twenty years away from a native English speaking environment, I can definitely say that I suffer from a Language Identity Crisis.

This ‘crisis’ is apparent on a number of levels. First off, when I speak Spanish, there’s no doubt in the world that I’m not from Spain or any other Spanish speaking country. My Andalusian Spanish is spoken with a heavy Canadian accent…an interesting combination to say the least! By the same token, when I ‘call home’ to talk to my family I’m told that I use Spanish intonation, throw in Spanish exclamations, and that I ‘sound like a foreigner speaking English’. Arrrgggh. Where does this leave me?

In classroom settings, I normally teach ‘British English’. This again, can sometimes pose problems. It’s not that the two languages are THAT different but I still have to think twice when I teach ‘at weekends’, ‘in Smith Street’ or being ‘knackered’.

My Language Identity Crisis is also crystal clear when I mix up Spanish words with English ones. A few years ago I told my dad that purchasing my flat in Seville was a great ‘inversion’ and had no idea why he didn’t understand me. I also asked my university about how to ‘convalidate’ my studies (duh! Not a good sign when an English Lit major invents words!). The list goes on and on.

Due to all this language mix-up, nowadays quite often people can’t peg where I’m from when they first meet me. Some think I’m Irish, others American, and others congratulate me on my ‘excellent English’ thinking that I’m a native Spanish speaker – help!

Even my non-verbal communication has been affected. I use Spanish gestures which are obvious here but which puzzle my family and co-workers in the UK.

Actually, if truth be told, I really enjoy knowing languages well enough to be able to suffer from a Language Identity Crisis. If I were monolingual, I’d never be able to speak Spanglish, code-switch, or have the opportunity to make a fool of myself at any given moment.

So, congratulations to all of you out there with a Language Identity Crisis and good luck making the most of those everyday mix-ups! 🙂

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Comments (6)
  • Great post, Nina. It sounds very familiar! “Inversion” sounds perfectly normal to me,as does ‘persians’ and ‘redaction’…

    Posted by Valerie on 26th October, 2010
  • when I was living in Germany I picked up a couple of Scottish hitch-hikers. After some conversation, they commented on my good English. “Of course, I am English,” I divulged. “Ah, get away!” was their riposte.
    Later when I went on a Diploma course in TEFL for native speaker teachers, on the second day I was called into the director’s office, who asked me confidentially: “Now, honestly, Simon, come on, tell the truth – are you really a native speaker? I moved from Germany to Spain with a German intonation, I’m told, if not accent. But, yeah, as nina says, that’s the price you pay, and it’s well worth it.

    Posted by Simon Andrewes on 26th October, 2010
  • […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Sprachtest.de, nati and Corey, Macmillan Dictionary. Macmillan Dictionary said: Are you suffering from a Language Identity Crisis? http://www.macmillandictionaryblog.com/language-identity-crisis […]

    Posted by Tweets that mention Language identity crisis | Macmillan -- Topsy.com on 26th October, 2010
  • Same language identity crisis, but witha different background: I’m an Italian English teacher living in Brazil 😛

    Posted by adriana on 27th October, 2010
  • I feel your pain, I´ve had this crisis ever since I started moving countries back in 1985, hey makes us all the more valuable!

    Posted by adriana arreaga murillo on 27th October, 2010
  • Wow, How come! I am doing my PhD studies in applied linguistics and am working on “identity and language” among language learners and teachers. Its new to me to hear that a native speaker of enlish is abandoning its identity due to too much exposure to a new language, i.e. L2.

    Im on the other side of this “identity issue”. I keep asking my students why they try to sound like an american or British (Of I have laready taken American Pronunciation) and they show that they are thrilled by english. they are developing a new identity and it can sometimes jeopardize their L1 idenity. Im very much interested in this issue especially L2 identity and ideology in language education.

    Posted by Saeed on 25th November, 2010
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