A Bit Of An Explanation

I am not a professional. Not anywhere near it. But I like to think that some little observations I have about language and the social construction of it are worthwhile.

Some of these notes were originally written for acquaintances with no linguistic experience whatsoever, so please be patient through the explanations of basic concepts, and the simplistic tone.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

What Exactly Is "Foreign"?

            The term “foreign language” is firmly imbedded in the world’s culture, used to refer to a language a person is learning/has learned that is not their native tongue.  But I’ve been thinking lately, musing on the problems of using these words.
            What exactly is “foreign”? I think we need to look at a couple of problems with several definitions people have used for a “foreign language”:
            1.A language from another country. – But Spanish is alive and well in America, yet it is still called a foreign language in school curriculums.
            1a.A language that originated in another country. – I’m speaking English right now, aren’t I?
            2.A language not a speaker’s native. – But how do you define “native”? What if a person was raised bilingual – in a household speaking both, let’s say, English and Russian. Now, which one of those would you define as “foreign”? Maybe it depends on the location – in America Russian would probably be considered the “outcast” of the two, but the situation wouldn’t be the same in Russia.
            2a.More on the “native” problem. How young does a person have to be when they start learning a language for that language to be considered their “native”? If a person speaks one tongue, but at seven years old starts learning another, is that too old? How about six? Five? When does it start?
            3.So, WHEN does a language stop becoming foreign? If a person attains fluency in a language, I would say that that language is no longer “foreign” to them.
            These are only a few reasons I think people need to stop using the term “foreign language”. Why can’t a language be just that – a language?

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