The Ups & Downs of Life as a Native Speaker of a Lingua Franca

For me, age is less of a factor than natural language learning ability or necessity to learn a language. It’s central to how you eventually learn the language, though.

I think that the focus needs to change in the Irish educational system with regard to language-learning. Endless amounts of surveys have shown us that, yes, we lack skills in Science and Mathematics (where the money lies) but more shockingly, in the domain of language skills. We should rearrange the school system so that languages come first. Once that boundary is crossed, we can move on to studying subjects that have relevance to and are taught throught the target language. It’s an age-old and accepted dogma – language is acquired socially, when we can apply circumstances, situations and social occasions to it in the classroom or in the home. Give language a social setting and lessen the academic influence that forces the affective filter upwards, organise more intercultural events and homestays/language exchanges from country to country.

In the case of Irish, always a touchy subject, we are getting it wrong. Make it elitist, let the good conquer it and let the less-informed as to how it has shaped our nation, culture, history and national soul and Irish-English that we speak nowadays linger in the dark, move Irish along. It’s a living language. It’s about time we realised that. We need to recognise that it must be taught effectively for once in the history of the Republic by means of a system of appropriation and not rote learning.

Over the course of my life as a language-learner, which constitutes a pretty large proportion of my mere 20 years, I have accumulated a pretty good grasp of three foreign languages, with some frowned-upon cuss words in random others thrown in there too. As a native speaker of English, I can tell you without being Anglophone pretty much excludes you from the exposure and language-learning situations open to non-native speakers of English. No matter how hard we try, we will not have the same exposure to foreign languages as learners of English do and we will never really need to rely on switching into a language that is not our own when faced with a languageless situation because English truly is the mothership of all lingua franca. This answers the question of survival by English alone. I could answer that in very few words, in that, yes, in most contexts, one can survive without English BUT this does exclude from those little nooks and crannies of culture tied up in language. With no knowledge of the language of a country you’re visiting, an acquaintance you’re doing business with or a host family you’re staying with, can you ever really fully understand them and how they carve up the world without a getting a glimpse into how their language works and how they express themselves. For me, the answer is no. Having English = survival BUT doesn’t give access to a broader cultural insight into a foreign culture. If anything, English is guilty of covering over culture.

So far in Brussels on Erasmus, I have to say that I haven’t been placed in many situations where I couldn’t express myself thru French because English was always there and, me being lazy like that and programmed thru Spanish después del tiempo que pasé en Argentina, I’ve resorted to speaking English in most contexts, be they commercial or social. Shameful, I KNOW! But that’s just the way things are these days. I often try my best to speak French with Belgian students but find that they speak back in English. As well as that, Francophone people have a penchant for correcting even minor mistakes made by learners of their wonderful language. Which is OK but it does raise the affective filter and thus, we feel less qualified and less comfortable speaking it amongst natives. What’s more, most students of my own age with a similar time period of learning English as to mine learning French, have a considerably better grasp of English than I have of French. And this is the crux of it all. English speakers don’t get the same exposure and opportunities as non-native learners of English do. Which has its god and bad sides. But right now, it just feels discouraging. And what hurts the most was being so close. Sorry, couldn’t help quoting that emo classic from mah teenhood, is that the intensity of third level classes here at my host Uni is a shock to the system. Having been out of higher education for a bit, I feel as though I’m not ready to take on the challenge again. But all is not lost. I have hope. And a tongue which is being too lazy to get in touch with this brain of mine which apparently has some languages in there and make beautiful music… 🙂


Fellow bloggers,

Week 12 has been manic…. And we’re only two days in! However, no time for whining!

On the point of MT and all that goes with it, I will say that I am intrigued.

When translating the technical text I have chosen, both manually and using MT, errors were encountered that one could only wonder at! All in all, the failure of MT to match our inimitable prowess as human beings in the domain of all things languagey inspires only more wonder and awe at having such a faculty, such an instinct that just intuitively knows…

That is all…

Felt I needed to share that…

Over and out.

The plot thickens…

The plot thickens

Essay submitted…Sigh of relief!

And I must admit that I am quite happy with the efforts I have made with regard to this project. I really have learned a lot. No, really! I mean it! I’m not just going with the flow and saying what lecturers want to hear – I do feel as though I have accomplished a lot. In analysing the corpus materials, context-based texts and concordance lines provided to me over the course of the project, I have deepened my knowledge in the domain of corpus linguistics and how the wide-ranging aspects of this discipline may be best manipulated when delving into the bottomless pit that is language study – in a good way, of course! If that’s even possible :-\

In all honesty, I do believe that using corpora to better one’s command of a target langauge is a skill which I will take with me throughout my studenthood and, who knows, maybe even beyond! I enjoyed making judgements, both linguistic and sociolinguistic, on the concordance lines I was presented with. I believe that the general structure of concordance lines aids and abets the dissection of a language, especially in a given context, adding to our general comprehension of a language.

Would love to stay and engage in pointless blog-chat with y’all but must keep moving. I’m off to analyse a corpus of academic texts in French to help me write my essay… Sure why not? 😉

P.S. Excuse the over-use of academicky jargon this time ’round. Tis a tough oul station, this switchin’ registers business!

Do you prefer to write notes on paper or on an electronic device?

Responding to this blog this was a suggestion made to me by the lovely people from WordPress… What a charming bunch! Someone out there in WordPress HQ must be tuning in and seeing what issues I like to deal with 😛 …

For me, it’s always been hardcopy all the way. There’s something just unbeatable about the feel of a pen in your hand, the pad on your lap, pensive pose at the ready and the odd doodle in the margins to keep you smilin’ in a not-so-sunshiney lecture hall!

I have never really questioned how I should develop upon my age-old method when note-taking, though… Maybe it’s high time I considered giving the electronic device a go of it? What harm could it possibly do, eh? :/

I must admit, all the same, that my faithful friend, my laptop, has come in handy in certain cases where I may have taken notes, i.e. in some lecture or other (no specifics here, people, they all merge into one after a while!) because, I found, I am more likely to formulate fully-functional coherent sentences and therefore, better comprehend what’s been put ahead of me….Also, in Labs, where a lot can be said and quickly taken down in polished, precise form with the computer at the ready ahead of you.

In saying that, for a recent exercise in Irish, I found myself making silly errors and losing concentration when typing out the sentences that I was required to correct for the exercise. I had to abandon the electronic device in favour of a lesser yet all-too-helpful sister-device; the pen and paper!

I guess it’s different for everybody… But I should vary it more often to incorporate note-taking of both kinds.

As for reading books from a strange, tablet-esque electronic device – never will I stoop that low! The smell of a book, the feel of it on your hands, the silken slide of a turning page, the history inside of it all, should never be swallowed up into a blur of electric light and fancy plastic … It just ain’t right, people. I feel injustice quite deeply :O





Back to my regular old haunt for a bit of a rant!

These past few weeks, assignments have been piling up at my doorstep and things have been hectic. So much to do and so little time… But we’ll suffer on and hoepfully survive, beaten and bloodied from the battle but all for the better! Oh blogging, you just bring out my alliterative side :/

Language learning is a process that surely never ends and, although I should be spending my time online reading up on some articles or doing some online exercises to invest in my own personal, knowledge bank but sometimes, a bit of multicultural indulgence is all we need.

Take a look at this blog [available:, dealing with El Día de los Muertes, a festival central to the Hispanic and Spanish diasporas and their shared culture. The blog describes the festival as a tradition that translates as ‘Day of the Dead’ and ‘dates back to indigenous cultures where people gather to commemorate their ancestors. Altars are set up to welcome the dead with flowers, food offerings; skull and skeletons are common symbols of death and rebirth. Other Latin countries also observe this holiday, as well as certain parts of Europe (celebrating All Saints and All Souls’ Day), but it’s probably the most exuberant in Mexico’. And there are plenty more bolgs out there from which we can gain a lot of experience and give context to the language that we are learning – important feature of learning, no?

With this festival playing such a central role in the general mindset and make-up of these cultures in which one of our target languages, it is uber-necessary that we indulge in looking at these delightfully elaborate costumes and of course the effort that people go to in honouring their dead! None of that trick-or-treat goo will you find here! Taking this festival as a learning resource, we can learn a lot! And not only a lot of language but about culture too… No language can be properly acquied without a certain respect for the culture in which that language has evolved… Don’t get me started on which came first, though – chicken-or-the-egg debate all over again! :-/ For me, both concepts – both realities – are inextricably linked!

Overall, as a learner, I feel that I can draw some healthily-helpful conclusions on the Spanish language and culture by studying both in tandem… And hey, it’s enjoyable, seeing how things are down in other, disparate parts of the globe.

Project Time!

Ahoy me mateys! 😀

Well now, I must say, this whole deal with the poject is becoming more and more clear with each passing day. What we are required to do is quite doable and yet, a sure challenge in itself…

Iwould have to say that I like the idea of being able to evaluate language learning for an audience of fellow students and for a module that respects the opinions of students and doesn’t force feed us some academic jargon that we can’t get the hang of! The project we are currently undertaking is designed to do just that – stimulate us to self-teach and give our own opinions. However, it goes above and beyond what we would expect from it, i.e. we are required to compare and contrast two methods of learning – the old versus the new, if you will… Personally, I will find this muy interesante

As someone questions the whole concept and generally-accepted concensus that all ‘digital natives’ are automatically programmed to be receptive to learning through any means of technology thanks to our inborn natvism thereto, this project will clarify where I fit in with regard to the effective acquisition of a particular section of grammar. In all honesty, I’m a staunch beleiever in the power of the ole grammar book when it comes to this debate. Can’t be beaten for its authority on all things grammatical! 🙂 Who’s with me?

It will make for an interesting project, especially for Irish, the target language for the project, which can be so lexically complicated at times (but lovable all the same, no doubt!). With up to seven different and distinguishable cases for certain words and a unique take on most things liniguistic, I look forward to analysing corpus materials in Irish in a detailed way! 🙂

The weeks are flying by… tick-tock-tick-tock :/

This week I had a language exchange meeting and I must say, the French can be quite, erm, honest. My language exchange partner was totally helpful and I couldn’t possibly fault her but the directness of the French language and, who knows, maybe it was her limited knowledge of the English language, her lack of experience in the domain of what’s considered polite to say in Irish-English conversations, or even just something in the French psyché, that made her correct and criticise so often. But I was unabatated… If anything, these critiisms spurred me on! 😀

Some language learners learn more effectively when encouraged and praised for their efforts but I myself am much more inclined to build upon criticism and better myself when I am called up on the mistakes that I’ve made. That is, my friends, something that we have to thank the whole Language Exchange Programme for; the ability to be criticised by peers in a non-academic setting – a setting in which, I have no doubt, every single learner (who is socially viable 🙂 ) has the capacity to learn much more. In all honesty, my confidence in speaking the language over coffee in a stuffy café – with tons of other conversations going on around me in English – really boosted my confidence as a learner – something which I feel strongly about.

In my view, language learning, be it online, face-to-face or in  the classrom should be reciprocated by rising levels of confidence in expressing oneself in the target language so that the learner will actually get somehwere and will n0t shy away from situations where they must assert themselves and speak in that foreign tongue…

I see my own confidence rising each time I speak the language in a context outside of the classroom and I sincerely hope that it’s working for me! 🙂

Week 4 and counting…

Pffffttt… What a week it has been!


The rhythm of academic life at
Uni has decidedly and determinedly taken a turn for the worst. Essay
titles were handed out this week with and recieved with as much
enthusiasm as a wet sponge would have for….drying dishes? Ouch…
analogy fail. The worst kind. But you get my point. At this stage, it
would be easy to give up just a little bit. Alack, that just ain’t an


However, online language learning
experiences for this week were pretty decent; they gave mé some
hope. In fact, language learning experiences in general were, but in
the lab this week, fellow labber and I had to present Le Corbeau
[available:], a delightfully delectable blog built for/by language
learners, with links to handy revision sites and downloadable
word-of-the-day applications but to name a few. Such fun! No
sarcasm intended 😉 …


The blog offers so
many loony links that one finds oneself immersed in language-learning
lunacy. And you also get to pet le petit
who appears on the blog from
time to time with your cursor. Anyone else find it painfully ironic
that modern technology affords us the once unknown pleasure of being
able to pet a cat with a mouse…? Maybe it was just me. Again. 😥 .


Heck, I even learned
some Basque from this website! Now that’s a productive week, if you
ask me.


P.S. Had a riveting
conversation about bilingualism in French class this week. It’s a
topic that gets all of us language ‘legends’ going… 🙂 And learned
a lot of French vocab specific to the domain of Linguistics. All is
well in the world.

Personalise – Contextualise – Interact

The overriding theme encountered in this week’s class contact sessions was that of the personalisation of language learning – an aspect of the academic occupation in which I am implicit that I have never too deeply considered. Can you believe it? Personally, I have sailed through the testing waters of language learning personalising it yet never consciously acting upon it. So both lab and lecture were eye-openers for me this week.

Firstly, I see it fit to define this whole personalisation malarkey. Stéphanie says it’s making the language your own. Liam looks for the deeper relevance and I have full faith that they are guiding us in the right direction, as always (insert brownie points for extensive swottage). In the same vein, several online resources, all listed below (kindly pardon my lack of a proper referencing system in the blog), define ‘personalisation’ very differently, with some interesting takes on this phenomenon. One such site claims unequivocally that personailsation of any subject matter is paramount for the retrieval of information – thereby branding personalisation of the topic as the basic strategy for any system of learning saying that ‘personalisation enables real-life learning scenarios’ by providing ‘contextualised access to learning’ (IEEE Computer Society, 2011). This may be true for most types of learning but I would argue that the acquisition of a language goes much deeper than that… (Pause for effect; cue the mystery and intrigue music)

Personalisation is also defined as the completion of a task in a personal manner by placing same in a certain context, i.e. contextualisation. However, personalisation of language learning, a whole different kettle of fish, lemme tell ya, is seen as a short-term activity (Croft, Cronen-Townsend, Lavrenko). I would have to disagree. I may not have been the most open-minded to this concept beforehand but I never stop thinking about language, be it what’s on the agenda for my Spanish homework or how to decode a chunk of Enlightenment literature in French, or sometimes even, just how to swear in Irish! Personalisation happens in a continuum of flux and flurry that never ends, especially in the domain of language learning. It is not, however, a lone warrior fighting the never-ending battle that is language acquisition.

The next rung on the ladder of language acquisition, in both the online and personal domain, is interactvivity, yet another constant in the grand scheme of all things language-learney. As we’ve seen in the lecture, this one can be pretty hairy to define… Any Google Scholar search will cough and splutter up a caking of results that claim, in perfect pedantry, that interaction is the multi-faceted reacionary transfer of informations, the reactionary response to an activity that demands counter-opinions, and even the pivot of any dialogue. However, one such site interjected suggestively that interactivity can now be exclusively defined as the set of happenings that occur thanks to any virtual dialogue, that is, any dialogue between a user and a computer (, LLC, 2011). This surprised me, even as an alleged ‘digital native’. Guess I’m just not as native as previously presumed. Goes to show that the ole adage ‘innocent until proven guilty’ holds some water.

In this way, we can see that all of these terms create a stunning mix and mash-up that chimes in a cyclical motion of personalise – contextualise – interact as the winning formula for language learning. That is my personal philosophy from now on in… I need to work on my strategy however, and re-evaluate my learning approaches. How could I have let this pass me by! I need to personalise the language that I learn by making it my own, contextualise it by applying it to contexts that ring true for me as a student, as a human being, as someone who experiences multicultural life; followed by some interacting with native speakers both virtually and in real life. All interaction is relevant.

Now I’m off to work on my method. And to strategise on how to bottle this formula by the truckload…. I’ll have language learners the world over paying through the nose for this crafty elixir! World domination with a linguistic take always did take my fancy… Sounds more like the mission statements of some of the conquesting colonisers the world has seen, don’t you think? 🙂

Works cited:

  1. IEEE Computer Society, Abstract of PALLAS: Personalised Language Learning on Mobile Devices, available: [accessed 24/09/2011].

  2., LLC, Definition of ‘interactivity’, available: [accessed: 24/09/2011].

  3. W.B. Croft, S.CRonen-Townsend, V. Lavrenko (2001) Relevance Feedback and Personalization: A Language Modeling Perspective. Computer Science Department, University of Massachusetts.

Supplementary Reading:

  1. Le, Apprendre à gérer son attention : un enjeu pour les écoles?, available: [accessed: 25/09/2011].

Online language learning: Are we being dumbed down? :-\

Deary me…. Is no human being safe from the destructive and apparently soul-destroying clutches of technology these days? This article has  depressed me decidedly, what with its talk of diminishment – eradication, even – of those special qualities of our brains that make us the types of learner that we are… There seems to be no hope for us.


Yet… I am eager to disprove the narrow-minded viewpoint of this journalist. He has refused to even consider the possibility of an enhancement in the ability to learn languages in an online setting, something which I and, I’m sure, my fellow students have found utterly helpful in our quest to crack these ancient and often undecipherable codes that we find ourselves knee-deep in from day-to-day.


Mr Journalist, I beg of you to be more positive. Less of this whiney talk of ‘the simpler the site, the simpler we become’ and the inevitable loss of ability to learn things naturally due to the ever-present influences of technology in our lives – which are, no doubt, simultaneously marred and aided thereby, yet, not to such a grave extent, IMHO. I believe that the lasting effects thrust upon us absorbent digital natives and, of course, some of you wannabes – digital immigrants, if I’m being PC about this 🙂 , can sway to the positive or negative side of any learning experience. In the end of the day, it all comes back to the type of learner that we are and how we cope in new learning environments.


In studying this module, I hope to take down the thunderous truculence of this theory, armed with my set of online-based language-learning skills and, not forgetting, my alliteration…. Hit them with the alliteration and they fall like, you got it, dominoes! We shall overcome. That is all.