As I write this post, my wife and I recently returned from a brief trip to Montreal, Canada. I know, it sounds crazy to go to Montreal in January, but we found out years ago that we enjoy going to cold places when there are almost no other tourists, things are cheaper, more available, and less crowded. We had a great time, what a marvelous city!
Anyway, as to language learning, I really don’t speak French, but of course it was fun to pretend like I do in Montreal. During this trip I felt something that was totally new in my language learning experience. That is, you have to have guts, an outgoing personality, and fearless social comfort levels to actually say French words out loud and in public. In French there are hundreds of cognate words, words that are even spelled exactly the same in both English and French, but their pronunciation is totally different. Look at the phrase, “J’ai une réservation.” You know, it takes courage to actually try to imitate a french accent and say “réservation.” Let’s try another one: “J’aime ce restaurant.” It takes guts to actually say out loud and in public, “restaurant” with a French flare. How about another, “Où est le plus proche station de métro?” One has to muster courage to say in a clear loud voice, “station de métro.”
I am not a shy person. In fact, I actually love talking to strangers in a foreign language. Usually I have no problem blurting out my limited and incorrect Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, German, Catalan, Japanese, and Chinese, as lowly as my proficiency may be. French, however, was different. This was because it just felt strange to say these cognate words with a French accent. Somehow I felt goofy, silly, or maybe like I was mocking French speakers (when I really was not), or teasing them about their pronunciation (when I really was not). Don’t get me wrong, I had a great time trying out my limited French, but I simply have never spoken a foreign language that made me feel so self-conscious about what I was saying.
It has all left me wondering about what linguistics call “affect.” Affect involves those personality issues that help or hinder language learning: being shy, reserved, anxious, nervous, outgoing, motivated by love, etc. Previous to my experience in Montreal, I would have suspected that affect is based on the individual, but now I also believe that affect is influenced by the language that one is studying.
If you relate to what I’m talking about, I’d love to hear from you.