Posts Tagged ‘language’

Germany In The Sun

I booked my final journey home last week. Since I arrived it’s felt like I have forever to explore and learn the language. Now I am in panic mode, trying to fit everything into the next four and a half weeks. One thing that is especially hard is the language. When I make mistakes or forget words I feel even worse because I know that in a month I won’t be here to ask my housemate what words mean or be able to practise speaking every day! I am also planning for moving. I arrived here with a small suitcase and a large ‘gap-year’ rucksack and will leave with the same.. but packing it all again is going to be a challenge! I will also have to do some administrative tasks before heading home which I will tell you about in a separate blog for those also going away on a Year Abroad. One of the truest pieces of advice about the Year Abroad is that is goes really quick. I cannot explain how unbelievable it is to think that I have been here for a whole year! It has been one of the most wonderful experiences and it is clear why so many people recommend it. Since the summer has arrived in Germany, we have spent a lot of time going outdoor swimming. It is in the woods and a section of the river is protected for open swimming. There is also a little pool and chairs for sunbathing and reading. Our heatwave started during exam time, so people would bring revision notes to read in the sun!   This town seems to get more and more beautiful:

Room with a view- the river you can swim in from the terrace

Room with a view- the river you can swim in from the terrace


Am I bilingual? Yeah, kind of.



Having completed a module in bilingualism for my course, it got me thinking about whether I myself was a bilingual, and if I could ultimately claim that my choice of degree was indeed credible given that eve-ry sin-gle time I am asked what course I study, I often get confused replies assuming I must speak other languages. It goes something like this:


Person: So, what do you study?

Me: English Language and Linguistics

Person: Cool, do you speak any another language(s)?

Me: No (laughs knowingly of expectations)


Most people would define a bilingual as an individual who speaks two languages. Fluently, for that matter, right? This notion is really what theorists call a “balanced bilingual” – which has proven to be very unlikely in realistic terms because bilinguals are rarely equally fluent in both languages in every single topic discussable.

However, “passive bilinguals” are different. They often have the ability to understand a language but not speak the language i.e. produce meaningful sentences in that language. Strangely enough, this is not an unusual thing. I am a passive bilingual, by definition. English is my first language which I can speak, read and write in but I have a profound understanding and comprehension of a dialect of a language called Enuani Igbo, my parents’ native tongue. Now, I cannot speak Enuani Igbo fluently at all but my conversations with my family usually consist of an interaction between both languages. My parents may speak Enuani Igbo, and I reply in Standard English, or a may give short Igbo replies, mostly Igbo “backchannels” and “fillers”.


I had always always always thought that I was a monolingual (someone who only speaks and understands one language) because of the widely accepted definition that a bilingual must speak all the languages they know fluently, and in the extreme case, write, read and understand in all they languages they know. So learning about passive bilingualism, in a way, reconstructed my identity. I have more knowledge of the entire dimension of bilingualism and the many variables that affect the phenomenon. According to the field, it is most likely that I understood both languages during childhood and then as English began to be spoken more at school and in other forums, knowledge of Enuani Igbo worsened.

While I hope I can one day speak my second language fluently, I can now say I am a (passive) bilingual/former monolingual.


New conversation:

Person: So, what do you study?

Me: English Language and Linguistics

Person: Cool, do you speak any another language?

Me: No (laughs). But I am considered a passive bilingual I understand another language which I can’t speak entirely fluently.

Person: Okay interesting


(This may well make you rethink your ‘language’ status!)



See for more information: Romaine, Suzanne (1995), Bilingualism (Oxford: Blackwell).

Living the dream

I have been in China for 2 weeks now! This language and culture study abroad trip has been a blast. I have met some amazing new friends here from QM who I’ve thoroughly enjoyed spending time with. At the weekend we went on a day trip to the water town Zhujiajiao and also to the famous M50 art district. Learning Chinese continues to be a challenge, but one I want to conquer. Today we had a calligraphy class after morning writing and reading comprehension, which was again a fun new experience. Campus life at East China University of Science and Technology is friendly and welcoming, the only exceptions are that it’s 10x bigger and the food here in the dining halls is a continuous guessing game!

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