It’s time for another language ideologies in the wild post! In this series, I describe the underlying (and generally) unrealized language ideologies in material I encounter in my everyday life. Today’s discussion comes courtesy of the Street Parking podcast. Street Parking is a fitness program I participate in (and love!) so as usual, the point of this post isn’t to be critical of this program or the podcast host, but just to raise awareness of how language ideologies show up unquestioned in our everyday lives.
The content I’d like to discuss is in the episode “Reaching for Personal Fitness Goals” where the topic is when to add in specialized programs beyond the daily workouts. The host, Miranda Alcaraz, mentions that a common mistake people make is trying to work on too many things at once (such as training for a half marathon and trying to PR a back squat) and goes on to make an analogy with language learning:
My analogy for this is kind of like trying to learn two languages at once, now I’m not someone who knows a lot of languages, I know like 1.25 languages, I kind of know Spanish, but I looked into this, and it was an analogy that came to me where something the more we immerse ourselves into something the more our nervous systems, our brains, our bodies, no matter what it is, is going to respond, adapt, and change based on the stimulus we’re giving it.
At this point my ears perked up both for the mention of language learning and the way in which this quote manages to pack so many assumptions rooted in monolingual language ideologies into one sentence: languages are separate, languages interfere with each other, languages are best learned through immersion, and you can reach an end state of “knowing” a language. The fact that this is the analogy she thinks of demonstrates how dominant these monolingual language ideologies are in our society.
There’s also her description of herself as knowing 1.25 languages, which while I do think she’s partially joking, reinforces the idea of languages as quantifiable objects.
Later, she continues:
Again, my analogy for this is like trying to learn two languages at once, it’s not that it can’t be done, but the more we can immerse ourselves into one, and really focus on one, and use it all the time and go to the place if you can or talk to people who speak that language, the quicker you’re going to see improvements in that.
While using a language is obviously key to learning it, monolingual ideologies are responsible for the assumption that immersion excluding other languages is the best way to learn. In reality, many of these places and people are going to be multilingual, and language learners will need to navigate these multilingual situations in order to expand their linguistic repertoires.
The final comparison to language learning is:
Your body’s doing the same movement pattern over and over again, it’s like learning that language, like you’re going to get more out of practicing the language for thirty minutes every day, than you will practicing for four hours one day a week.
I happen to agree with this statement, and would actually extend it to everything in life–consistency is key!
In fact, as someone who has spent my entire life learning languages and exercising in one way or another, generally with multiple languages and sports at once, I do think there are a lot of similarities between these two activities. Notably, to see progress you have to be consistent, you have to use the language/do the exercise, and you will never “finish.” Sure, you can reach a proficiency or competitive level, but if you don’t want to lose your skills, you have to keep going. Another similarity is the way your skills shift with time and lived experiences, to shift towards a comparison based in multilingual language ideologies.
So, that concludes another discussion of language ideologies in the wild! Have you spotted any lately?
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