29 March 2012

Why do I speak English?

Perhaps this seems like a weird question for an English speaker to ask himself, but I found myself facing this very question today.

I was invited up to the college counsellor's office for a quick chat.  I wasn't sure why, but I went along.  Well, it turns out that what it was was that we have a "Gaelic language officer" here, who is supposed to encourage us to speak Gaelic.

Well anyway, she'd raised that she'd heard me speaking English a few times recently.  I wasn't in trouble for it, like many of my classmates have been made to feel in the past, because I'd commented months ago that I was feeling low and you could always tell when I'm feeling low because I end up speaking English.  This isn't something that's specific to English -- when I'm low (or when I'm hungover) my language capacity just drops and speaking a foreign language becomes a chore and a source of frustration.

So the counsellor was more interested in making sure I was OK than telling me off, which was nice.

But it started me thinking about why I was speaking English yesterday, when the language officer had given me a rather stern warning.

Well I had been feeling a bit down either side of the weekend, but I think I'd cheered up a bit -- the nice summery weather we're getting really puts you at ease.

So maybe it was the tail end of a spell of avoiding Gaelic.
Or maybe it was that I was chilling out with an ice cream and English was part of that relaxation.

But I think there's more to it than that.

The guys I was with at the time were all from the learner course.  That immediately makes it harder to have a conversation.

One of them is a good friend who I'm always giving big brotherly advice to, and as most of the conversations we have go beyond her ability in Gaelic (and often mine too), we talk English, so English has become the default language for us.

One of the others I don't get on so well with.  She's very sarcastic and usually disapproves of everything I say or do.  And thinking about it, I tend to avoid speaking to her in Gaelic normally too.  So why?  The memory that jumps to mind when thinking about her is her getting upset at me for trying to correct her.

And that's probably the biggest reason I stick to a particular language with some people.  I just don't like listening to someone making mistakes consistently and repeatedly and not doing anything about it.  If the person won't take correction, then why are they speaking in that language?  You can't consider it a "learning experience" if you're not learning anything, so what's your goal?

So I've worked myself out: there's got to be a reason for speaking the language you're speaking -- it's either the best means of communication or you're learning from it.  (Or possibly you're doing it specifically to be friendly.)  Just speaking for the sake of it doesn't cut it with me.

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