Monday, April 10, 2006

Global Language, Heightened Sensitivities

Today's the last day of the Global Language Convention held in Singapore. I've been attending it over the weekend, and I must say, it has set me thinking about a lot of things, and I'm not sure where my mind is headed on most of the thoughts.

Nothing brings greater awareness to yourself than being at an event that supposedly brings like-minded people together (or in this case, people of the same profession), where you try both to seek a personal identity in the midst of similarities, and try to search for others truly like you once you think you've found that self-identity. I babble. But let me try to straighten out my thoughts.

I've spent more than 7 hours each day over this weekend among (mostly) language teachers in IB schools in the region, and most of them, English Language teachers. Every other person you ask the question, "where are you visiting from?" responds with "Hong Kong" or "Shanghai" or "Tokyo", but throw a stone in any direction and it's bound to hit someone with blonde hair with a strong British or American accent of some sort. We spend hours talking about English being a global language that brings minds together, opens cultures up to each other, and in the same breath, say that English leads to the loss of indigineous cultures and identities, loss of native/mother tongues.

All of us speak English, and all of us are trying to classify each other into what kind of English you use. Is English your first language, second language, foreign language, mother tongue? I don't know the answer to that with regard to myself. Does it matter anyway, since I live in Singapore where no one has never asked me that question before? Should anyone else ask me even?

I'm on my own at this conference. But it's held in Singapore, so that's supposedly familiar ground for me. But I'm on my own, and desperate scans through the entire conference area brings no comfort - I find no one like me. I'm not unable to be independent. It's not like I'd get lost in my own country, or that I should get unnerved in a place I grew up in. Everyone else around me speaks English, so no worries about striking up a conversation, right? While that may be so, I find lots of people looking awkward, not knowing where to fit themselves either. Yet when I try to talk to them, I don't feel like our awkwardness brings us together. I move on. And finally, what do I find relief in? Someone who sounds just like me! She doesn't look like me. She's Indian. I'm Chinese. But she sounds just like me! She's Singaporean! We CLICK. INSTANTLY. And I feel a great sense of relief. Seriously.

English doesn't unify us. Goodness knows what English does to us. Brings about access to information, but certainly doesn't make me like the rest of the people at the conference. The conference is like this HUGE international school, where international simply means a gathering of many different types of people who really haven't found comfort with each other, even if they are able to speak the same language.

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