Language Awareness for All

Forever35 Podcast: Two friends that like to talk about serums

Yes, so I love podcasts! (And have talked about them on this blog here and here.)I was listening to the Forever35 podcast the other day, (getting some advice on serums and the like, as one does), and there was a relative controversy that erupted over micellar water/eau micellaire–not over the cosmetic product itself, but over the pronunciation.

The show hosts had commented on a previous episode about not knowing how to pronounce the name of this product, so various people called in suggesting pronunciations: someone from Switzerland giving /mi.sɪ.’lɛ
ʁ / , and someone from the US suggesting /maɪ.’sɛ.lər/. The hosts kept making a big deal out of how different these pronunciations were, and that they still didn’t know which one was the “right” pronunciation.

What struck me about this whole podcast was the lack of language awareness. These weren’t two differing pronunciations of the same word, but the pronunciations of two separate words in two completely different languages. It wasn’t that one was right and the other wrong; one is correct in English and the other correct in French. It’s not really a debate. Now if it had been a debate on the wheres, whens and hows of, for example, using French loanwords for cosmetics or other products in English, it would have been interesting. But it was two people not really noticing the difference between two completely different languages. (Don’t worry, it was cleared up on the following episode, after a bunch of listeners who were probably thinking the same thing as me called in to clear up the (non-)debate!

To me it seemed like such an example of the monolingual mindset (Clyne, 2005), a denial of societal de facto multi/plurilingualism in the context of monolingualism in the dominant majority language (in this American case, English) as the default standard. Amongst all various other phenomena associated with the monolingual mindset is a lack of interest in, or value put on learning /speaking of other languages, as it is seen as something difficult outside the realm of ordinary people. The hosts of the podcast were so thoroughly immersed in a monolingual mindset that it didn’t occur to them that the two pronunciations of micellar/micellaire might actually be in two languages; they could only comprehend them as being variants on the English word, one of which had to be wrong.

I don’t bring this up to try to brag about the fact that I happen to know English and French and so this stood out to me. Rather, it was a reminder to me that there are lots of people who live in different contexts where a monolingual mindset is the status quo, and sometimes those same people end up moving to Canada to study and joining our language classes.

In an EAP context I like to do a lot of (critical) language and linguistic awareness-raising of everything: socio-cultural contexts of language use, language and power, phonological awareness, awareness of the history of English, social variability of language use, etc.. I like to make comparisons between English and other languages, as well, as especially where relevant to talk about vocabulary loanwords, or to compare syntactic phenomena.

These are such interests of mine, and I’ve been studying/talking about them for so long, if I get too excited I might get carried away: my teacher talk getting too jargon-y, and I might dive too fast and too deep into some of the topics I’ve mentioned above. But if someone is coming from a context where the monolingual mindset it present, their language awareness might be at a very low level. In that case, the language awareness pieces would have to be very carefully scaffolded to make sure everyone in the class was on the same page, and that learning outcomes were being achieved by all members of the class.

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