Finding Spaces for Language

While studying French (which, in practical terms, often entails sitting in poorly-ventilated classrooms, digesting grammar and stories and conversation in tandem), immersion experiences offer up reminders of why we choose to study languages at all. This is a concrete benefit of the SLA grant, in my opinion: through extending my immersion in Switzerland secured by an internship experience, my grasp of the benefits and widespread applications of language development solidify.

Within the International Organization and United Nations system established in Geneva, the benefits of acquiring another “official language” (of which there are six) are numerous. Moving beyond dependency upon translations at meetings and hearings to active, participatory listening lends itself to quickly capturing the rapid back-and-forth, the occasional humor, or the intensity of rhetoric in a given situation. Knowledge of French within this system is, I believe, indispensable. It is one of the cornerstone languages of day-to-day communication and a bridge outside of Switzerland to the rest of the Francophone world.

Aside from a professional context, I find myself desiring spaces for language-learning because I find French a conduit of certain emotions and expressions that find a certain lightness in their untouched form. I often consider the difficulty of accessing the emotional power of language aside from my mother tongue, and I consider that the depth of connotation and nuance required to experience emotional ties to language may be the last component to arrive in the language-learning process, far after humor and advanced rhetoric. Perhaps this remains a distant goal because of the disparity in the way I emotionally experience the written word in English and the way in which my French reading skills focus on comprehension, not experiencing rich constructions of emotive narratives. Along my journey of learning the language, I hold this goal in mind: reaching a point at which the connotations, nuance, and lightness of words strike me in ways that are novel and even moving. It entails opening spaces of language, resting in them more fully.

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