Refusing to speak English while on erasmus

As I mentioned a while back, I decided to stop speaking English for the remainder of my erasmus.  Yesterday evening, I had my last ever erasmus class (well, that was really on Monday, seeing as for yesterday’s class we just went to the Christmas market, but anyway).  Seeing as that marked the end of erasmus (I’ve finished all my exams bar one not very significant one tomorrow –  ahh, nearly forgot it was tomorrow…), I decided to let myself speak English again, starting at about 6pm.

It was interesting.  A few people had almost forgotten I spoke English, and thought it was bizarre to hear me speak it again, once they realised.  I surprised myself by not struggling to remember every word I needed, which happened regularly after being immersed in Spanish for a few months.  It was seventy full days since I quit speaking English.  Granted, I obviously spoke it on certain occasions – Skype calls, having visitors, meeting up with people from my home college, language exchanges, randomly enough bumping into new Irish people and sometimes on occasions where English-speakers I hadn’t told about my silly plan popped up.  So there were about two weeks within that where abstaining from English was largely ignored.  For the rest of it though, was it actually worth it?

Well for starters, I spoke far more French than I would have if I didn’t decide to do this, which for me makes it worthwhile.  I also resorted to other languages more often, and even learned or revised a little bit of Spanish, Irish, German (klar!), Chinese (nǐ hǎo was all I picked up, but it’s a start), Japanese, and possibly some Italian (io non parlo italiano).

Attempting to speak the language, while not resulting in fantastic improvements in my level of French, at least made me less embarrassed about trying to speak it, and most of all made it much easier for me to respond any time a French person magically appeared and said something to me in French.  Previously, when I was used to using English, simply responding to a basic question or greeting was far more challenging, as I wasn’t thinking in French at all, so I’d have to take a moment to register what language was actually being spoken to me, and then my brain would have to switch to that language, and form a response.  By which time the other person would probably have said something like “ah you don’t speak French”, and then said whatever they’d originally said in English.  If you’ve ever tried to speak the local language of a place when it’s not your native one, you’ll know that once this happens, there is almost never any going back.

Which basically made me go down this route in the first place.  This and the fact that, even though I can never seem to lie about the fact that I speak English if someone asks me (despite responding in their language anyway, to sort of hint at the fact that maybe I’d like to continue speaking that language please please please), avoiding speaking English at least made it easier to keep speaking French, even when native speakers of it kept responding to me in English.  As soul-crushing as it was, I at least got to practise speaking it, even if I didn’t get to try and improve my comprehension of it often.

Another benefit was that when erasmus students with really good English realised I was speaking French to Irish people, it probably made them more inclined to speak French to me rather than English.  And they’re often easier to understand than native speakers, because they usually speak more slowly, and get it when you have no idea how to express what you’re trying to say, often even knowing exactly what you’re trying to say even when you don’t have the exact words.  We’re like, telepathic or something, I don’t know.

A major, and very obvious negative aspect of the whole ordeal however, was simply not being able to speak.  I could communicate, obviously, but not as quickly or accurately as I’d have liked, without throwing in a couple of English words now and then.  But that in itself sort of pushes you to improve.  Or at the very least, it makes you more aware of what you need to learn – if you can’t say a certain basic word in French, maybe you should look it up next time you get a chance.

Your personality changes a bit when you speak a different language too.  So I was mainly la Sarah française since the start of October, aside from the odd outburst of Irishness in the form of exclamations like “shite” and “jaysus”.  It’s far more difficult to joke in French too, when you’re not fluent in it, which is a shame, but sometimes attempts at speaking French or weird phrasing end up funny in themselves, so that cancels it out somewhat.

If I was to go back in time, I’d still do the same – it was difficult, but I would have found erasmus more difficult if I’d continued with what I’d done in September and spoken loads of English.  If it was possible, I’d have done my erasmus with no other native English speakers, but that was either not at all possible, or extremely close to impossible, and I didn’t think of going as far as asking the people in charge of my erasmus placement to just send me to any French-speaking area within Europe where they thought there would be the least amount of English speakers, please and thanks, despite that being my priority when making my erasmus choices.  English speakers are cool though, so it’s nice that I did get to know a few of them while here.

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My take on Matador Network’s “15 delusions I’ve had about returning home after being abroad”

I stumbled upon this article today, and think it’s fairly relevant seeing as I’m heading home soon, after, well, a 2014 where I’ve spent three months at home in total – which isn’t exactly crazy seeing as a lot of people travel for twelve months, or move abroad for a couple of years, and then return.  But, prior to this year I’d only spent five weeks abroad all at once, so it’s the most relevant it’s been for me so far.

Here’s a look at which of these I think have been, or will be, accurate in my case (with modifications thrown in when necessary):

1. I’m totally going to wear these Thai fisherman vivid pink north Argentinian pants back home.

I so am.  I already have, during my month at home between work placement abroad and erasmus – which also kind of gives me an insight into how true these all are.

Not delusional about this one.  They are super comfy, and I encountered more than enough staring on my travels to not really care about it anymore.  Next.

2. I’m going to use my Korean Spanish and French language skills all the time.

No.  I’m not going to kid myself about this one.  If the opportunity comes up, maybe in the form of a lost Spanish or French-speaking tourist, or someone who simply wants to speak either language to me at home for some reason, then yes, obviously, I’d be delighted to, but I don’t see that happening too often.

Even if I was living in a tourist hotspot, most people who visit Ireland know some English, and even if they only knew Spanish or French, I’d probably be so surprised it wouldn’t even register with me until too late.

3. By golly! Hon! I’m going to visit a museum in my own city. Why not?

I don’t live in a city or all that near to many museums, so no.  However, there’s at least one that I know of where I go to college (so knowledgeable), and I considered visiting it before, so maybe someday I’ll visit it.  Yeah, I’d like to.  But I would not bet too surprised if it didn’t happen for ages.

4. My home peeps are going to be so excited to see me.

They’re surely used to me being gone by now, and it’s only a couple of months since I saw a lot of them.  So nah, hardly.  Okay there’ll be a little bit of fuss over seeing people for the first time, but not much, I’m home for a while this time sure.

The dog is gonna go crazy though.

5. I’m going to start using public transportation.

I already have, whenever it’s been available.  (Kind of off the point but if Ireland could take the best of mainland European transport and have a lot of that even connecting villages with town and towns with cities that would be sound!  And actually if Europe could get buses like the ones in Argentina, with similar comfort and pricing too…  Yeah.  I’ll keep dreaming.  Covoiturage (BlaBlaCar) though, that can become a thing in Ireland.  Without even costing billions, or anything at all, to get it started.)

6. Friends and family will want to hear ALL the details of my international escapades.

Nope!  A bit more like this, really:

Me:  “Well.”

Friend:  “Listen to her, ‘Argentina this, Argentina that…’, does she ever stop?!”

And that’s why I miss my friends when I’m away.

7. They’re also going to appreciate my handmade photo album.

Didn’t make one.

8. I don’t need the new iPhone. I don’t need anything.

I don’t need anything.  I need to avoid getting an actual smartphone for as long as possible.  But I want one.  Kind of.  While simultaneously not wanting one.  So we’ll see how that goes.

Really though, I don’t need anything more than what I’ve managed to fit into a suitcase and carry-on luggage while switching countries.  I don’t even need all of what I’ve brought, and I no longer want to own more clothes than can fit in my luggage, but, reducing the amount of clothes I have to close to that would result in people wondering why I always wear the same clothes, why I don’t have a new dress for almost every night out, and the likes.  So it would be challenging purely because of that.  But I would like to have less clothes seeing as no matter how much I have, I’m still probably going to wear the same stuff most of the time anyway.  This delusion therefore, is fairly strong, for the moment, I guess.

9. I’m going to get a real job.

I’m a student, so finding proper, full-time employment isn’t something there’s much point in me wasting time worrying over yet.  Part-time work would be great though.  *Begs employers*

10. All my new travel mates and I are going to rendezvous in Morocco in five years! I’m going back to Argentina some day.

Delusional?  I hope not.  There’s far too much left to see there.  And simply because of the people, the culture, the language, the food…

11. I’m not going to return to the S.A.D. diet. (Standard American Diet) eat well when I get home

Best of luck to me.  I mean, I’m going home at Christmas.  You can’t avoid certain unhealthy foods  at Christmas (chocolaaaaate!).  It’s practically illegal.

I will eat more fruit and veg though.  And less baguettes.

12. I’m not going to drink so much.

This is likely, but I don’t drink much as it is, and never have much in Ireland.  So to drink less, I’d almost have to go back to complete sobriety.  I might do that.  Or I might just have a drink occasionally whenever I feel like it, because that will most probably be possible without tonnes of abuse for not always drinking on a night out, and not getting hammered even if I do.  Hon!

13. I’m going to throw the best Spanish/Thai/Vietnamese/Arabic dinner party ever! cook something Argentinian (empanadas) again while at home. And I’ll try making crêpes.

Realistic enough targets, I think, depending on the time limit.

14. I’m going to really put my new boxe française/tango skills as a Thai massage therapist/belly dancer/Hapkido yellow belt to good use.

Define “skills”…

15. I can’t wait to get home!

Agreeing with the author of the article on this one, finally going home after being away can be over hyped .  And I think it will be great, but eventually, yeah, it’ll probably go back to how it always was, and I may not meet up with people as much as I’d like, or y’know do a lot of kind of touristy things in Ireland while I’m there.  But Christmas will be lovely, as will having more time with my family, and heading back to college with my friends after a full year away from it will be amazing too (college work aside).  Really, it’ll only be disappointing in any way, if I allow it to be.  So I’m still really looking forward to it, even if I’ll miss a lot of stuff from the places I’ve been.  Travel is great but family and friends aren’t the worst either.  (And that is my completely chill way of not straight up expressing just how brilliant it will be to see everyone at home again, and completely playing down the whole thing.  Except that kind of undoes it, doesn’t it?  Oops.)