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Planning and get-together this Thurs.; invitation submitted to Daily Cal

Written By: daveski on October 21, 2007 No Comment

Are you interested in meeting other people who might like to contribute to this blog? What would make it a better/easier place to participate in? (Should we call it a “mlog” or something else other than “blog”?) What aspects of the topics covered, site design, and functionality need work? Are there particular topics that you’d like to write about? Do you like cookies?

Everyone’s invited to a meeting to talk about these topics (and eat snacks) this Thursday, Oct. 25, 3-4pm in B-37 Dwinelle.

And in an effort to get the word out, a couple of us stopped by the Daily Cal office last week and submitted this article inviting the Berkeley campus community to participate. Thank you again to Ania, Meghan, and Susie for contributing to the article. We hope it runs, and hope to see you Thursday.

–daveski

Being multilingual at Berkeley… A blogging invitation

Berkeley is often said to be a multilingual campus. While sipping coffee in the International House cafe, you can view video feeds of the latest news in several languages, and then go online and search for library materials in over 350 others. Walking through Sproul Plaza, you can hear discussions in Chinese, friends talking in Farsi, and student groups telling others about their activities in Spanish. You might speak a language other than English in phone conversations with family; maybe you read Vagabond, Berkeley’s multilingual literary magazine; or you might even be one of the 4000 or so students enrolled in a language course.

We might be a multilingual campus, but are we a multilingual community? Although less than half the student body reported learning only English as their first language in a 2005 survey, many say that their non-English native languages have somehow become foreign as they have grown older. How do the languages of our lectures, discussion sections, sports events, club activities, chats with friends in person and online and all the other places where we make meaning in our lives as Berkeley students connect to our multilingual selves, our histories, our experiences, and the lives we might imagine?

Students in courses such as Professor Claire Kramsch’s Language and Identity freshman seminar have begun to explore these questions, discussing and writing about the languages in their lives. Almost universally, they have shown how their different languages are not just neutral codes for expressing meaning; rather, they attest to the sense that we are different people in the different languages we speak, whether we grew up with them or whether we began to learn them much later. Meghan, for example, who first learned Spanish in a dual-language immersion program in the U.S., writes,

English taught me rules. Spanish made me a revolutionary. In English I can clearly express myself. Words flow out in essays of sound, and just as I can speak to a professor about politics I can drawl to a friend about Friday night plans. My English is a tyrant. It is regulated. Controlled. Divided and conquered until every piece is analyzed and stripped of meaning: patriotism, morality, freedom. My Spanish is raw and changing. It is a rebel fighter. In Spanish the words tumble out. Sometimes too fast, sometimes too slow, sometimes words that I don’t even know the meanings of in English. Spanish lets me into a world where otherwise I could not be.

While, like Meghan, we might feel like different people in the languages we speak in the present, Ania’s recollections show us how languages might also serve to divide the different periods of our lives. She writes,

With surprisingly little mixing or overlap, each of the time periods [my past, present, and future] corresponds to a language: Polish to my past, English to my present, and French to my future. Each of these languages, in turn, is bound to a distinct and unique set of memories, feelings, and experiences, intertwining in my brain so tightly that they cannot be torn apart…Polish, the language of my past, is the language of my heart, my earliest memories, my family, my history…

Ania’s message is hopeful: later in the essay she looks forward to living future lives in Russian, German, or Italian. In contrast, Susie’s tale of acculturation in the English-speaking American school system after arriving from China is filled with a profound sense of loss—loss of language, and of family. She describes her fight to learn back the language she had spoken fluently when she was younger:

Now, when listening to my grandparents brag about how intelligent I was as a child, I feel embarrassment at how much I had tossed aside in order to become a proper “American” child. My dread of speaking English has been transferred to dread of speaking Chinese; my recitation of English vocabulary has been replaced by memorization of Chinese terms. Learning Chinese is much different than learning English; instead of accomplishment, I feel frustration at having so much difficulty with a language I was born into.

These passages are excerpts from longer essays, and as such do not do justice to the many meanings explored by each of their authors. In a larger sense, though, each of the completed essays is still a work in progress, an unfinished statement made at the beginning of an educational journey at Cal and in life beyond the university. They are presented here in this column as food for thought among the other news and opinions in today’s Daily Cal.

In the spirit of encouraging exploration of the multilingual and multicultural nature of our community, the Berkeley Language Center, a unit that supports the learning and teaching of heritage and foreign languages on the Berkeley campus, would like to invite interested readers and writers to join in the development of a new blog on language, culture, and identity, called “Found in Translation” (http://foundintranslation.berkeley.edu). A brainstorming and planning meeting will be held on Thursday, October 25, 3-4pm, in B-37 Dwinelle. All who might be interested in blogging on these topics, or who would like to contribute blog entries or other writing that you already have, are welcome to attend.
We look forward to exploring what it means to become multilingual together.

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