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.

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.)

Why I’ve started experimenting with a certain drug

For the first twenty years of my life, I was sober. I somehow managed to defy the Irish stereotype which ultimately results in the notion that we, as a nation, are “fond of the drink”. I avoided the drug for longer than most people expected, or indeed thought was normal, seeing as I got a lot of questioning over it.  Strangely, much more so as an underage non-drinker, which eventually resulted in me sadly giving up on the battle with peer pressure, and having about enough drinks to count on one hand, while I was seventeen.  I then turned eighteen, and decided that because I could now legally drink, it was an ideal time to give up drinking (logical, eh?), not that I’d ever really started.

Yes, the drug I’m talking about is alcohol.  Many people don’t consider it a drug, but it is.  Apparently, it’s more harmful than heroin and cocaine, though that could just be based on the sheer number of people who cause harm to themselves or others because of alcohol, compared to other drugs.  Look at me, referencing things I haven’t a clue about – you’d swear this was an assignment!

I have literally started drinking in the hope that it will improve my college results. No, seriously. This is basically an experiment to see if it will. That or I’ll become a fully fledged alcoholic, only time will tell.

The craic may also secretly be a factor, but it’s more empowering and mildly amusing for me to think of it as a means of helping my education.

I study languages. My course involves a huge amount of travel – we generally spend between a year, and a year and a half of our four-year course, abroad – usually in two different countries. The idea of this, of course, is that we greatly improve upon the languages we study. Naturally, this involves meeting a lot of new people, and often being in situations where you’re both the only outsider, and the only one non-native speaker of the language. It’s often difficult being an outsider when you can speak the local language, but add to this an inability to express yourself clearly, or communicate with others easily, and it makes for some tricky situations.

And that’s where the alcohol comes in. I’ve both noticed, and been told, that alcohol makes people talk more.  Even when it’s not in a language they’re fluent in – that doesn’t matter. The alcohol doesn’t care. It just thinks you should speak. A lot. So you do.

(Not exactly a groundbreaking discovery here, but, as I may have hinted before, speaking a language actually helps you improve it. Probably more so than any other form of study.)

Basically, I could spend all day in the library studying French grammar, or I could go out in a French-speaking area, have a few drinks, and chat away with people in French for the night. The latter sounds like more fun, and could very well be more beneficial. Yes, it’s times like this that I rediscover my love for my course. You know, when our assignments are basically to go travel and have the craic in whatever languages we’re studying (*ahem* as well as, of course, work and study and all that…), rather than readings and essays and the likes.

Sure, I can easily talk plenty without alcohol, but I’ve found that it requires a lot of effort, sometimes, and that even when I’m confident enough in my ability to communicate, I end up being really quiet in large groups.  Or just in general, when it comes to languages other than English. I’m used to embarrassing myself by needing a few attempts at saying what I’m trying to say, or simply saying things incorrectly, or being misunderstood because of my accent (if I had a euro for every time someone thought I said I was from ‘Holanda’, or ‘Hollande’, instead of ‘Irlanda’, or ‘Irlande’…). I don’t care as much about that anymore. But I’ve found that when I am brave enough to chat in groups, that it sometimes takes me a while to pluck up the courage to do so, or that I simply don’t do it enough. And it’s sad relying on alcohol to counteract that, but honestly, it’s way easier, and far more efficient.  (I’m lazy.)

So there you go. I really have given up being a non-drinker for the purpose of language learning. That, and I won’t lie, after a few years you do get a little sick of being completely sober while a minority of extremely drunk people are generally just being irritating on nights out (the majority of course being great craic – genuinely, otherwise I wouldn’t be out with them), but I don’t think that alone would have caused me to start drinking.

*Spoiler* I’ll probably return to the non-drinker life again soon enough.  That or I’ll just continue to barely drink, being the lightweight that I am, and will probably have more non-alcoholic nights out than ones where I drink, even if people don’t seem to get why I’d want to do that.  At least if I quit, I’ll now finally get to say “I’ve been sober for X months/years”, which might be a fun challenge to keep track of.  That and maybe people would react more positively to that than the old “yeah I never really drank” line.

And that concludes this episode of reasons to drink, according to Sarah.

Cheers.

(I’m sorry okay I’m terrible for attempting to make puns, or laughing at even the worst ones.  I don’t think that even counts.)

 

(If you’re wondering why I avoided alcohol for so long, seeing as most people ask, or at least are probably a little curious about it, I’ll get to that another day, it would take far too long to explain in this post.)

Coin Flip

On Sunday, my inability to make a decision finally resulted in me choosing to flip a coin, to help me figure out what I wanted.  And I’d been told that when you flip a coin to make a serious decision, it results in you generally realising what you want before the coin even lands.  Maybe that knowledge messed it up for me because in the time the coin was flipped into the air, spun and caught, all my mind was telling me was “I don’t know”.  I actually couldn’t decide.  The coin failed.  I failed.

Except I think I just had a delayed reaction to the coin flip, or it it didn’t have the same effect because I was so aware that it was going to make me decide so I panicked, was sort of scared, and couldn’t think.  Even a minute later, when I was told the coin had said ‘heads’ – which we had chosen to mean I would stay in France for the year – my reaction was disappointment.  I knew that it would have been the same if they had said it was tails, but from that moment on, and taking into account some advice from college friends who’d all already made their decisions long ago and without much difficulty, I started seriously thinking about leaving my erasmus at just one semester, instead of extending it to two.

I think I made my mind up on the day, within  an hour of  the coin flip, but I’ve been pondering it since to make sure I’m doing the right thing.

Don’t get me wrong, I’d still love to stay for the year, or come back to this town to live here for a while, but I think going home is the right decision.  If I stayed it would probably make college much more difficult, between various modules, and most of all, the equivalent of a thesis that we have to write at some point in the next year and a half.  Seeing as it’s half of third year and all of fourth year we’re talking about here, I’d rather not make things any more complicated than they should be.

I’ve had a massive weight lifted off my shoulders after that anyway.  Fully recommend making serious decisions at least a few days before the deadline (and no later) to everyone.  Except that’s generally what people do, isn’t it?  Yeah…  Well, I tried.  This is a much better result than my last few major academic decisions, which were made either on deadline day, or when it was too late.  Great day for the parish.

Full Year Erasmus – Yay or Nay?

I struggle  so much with decisions that for my next serious one – that of staying on erasmus for a year or not – I’ve decided to compile a list of pros and cons for staying, and, in an attempt to make it even more accurate to what on earth would be best, I’ve actually weighted each pro and con by giving them a value based on how important they actually are.  Yeah I’m not even joking I honestly feel the list is necessary just to attempt to come close to a decision, and well, the weighting of each point just seems like the right to do to me and my apparently overly logical brain.

It makes sense, I swear.  I mean there were several arguments for and against that got zero points because they’re really not important in the grand scheme of things.

As it happens, I then discovered that as well as simply adding up the points for each side, I could also obviously change that into a percentage, and as we all know percentages are always more fun.  Go maths.

So, the current tally on the Full Year Erasmus – Yay or Nay? vote stands at:

Yay:  54%

Nay:  46%

Does that kind of highlight my indecision, just a tad?  I mean it couldn’t be much closer, it’s like the Scottish referendum all over again.

And I haven’t even finished the pros and cons list, not quite.

If I hadn’t weighted each pro and con, it would have resulted in the no vote being up 0.65% to a round figure of 47% versus 53% for a yes to staying for a year.

(I’m clearly having withdrawal symptoms ever since I stopped studying maths back when I finished school, leave me be.)

At this rate I’ll nearly have to resort to doing what I feared I’d end up having to do and just flip a coin over it.  And I’m not doing that…  I hope.

I’ve got about a week to make up my mind.  Wish me luck.

Any if you’ve any thoughts on whether a full year erasmus might be a good idea or not, feel free to let me know!

Trop Bizarre

I recently had one of my usual (at this stage) moments where I’m surrounded by native speakers of a language I can’t speak – except this time, it was English.  I’ve challenged myself not to speak that until I leave France, so when I was out for dinner, with all English speakers, to celebrate a friend’s birthday, needless to say I spoke less at the dinner table.  Normally, I literally can’t construct the sentences I want to add to group conversations in other languages (when I understand them), or I manage to do so in my head after the subject has been changed, so it was very strange when I could easily add something in English, but I didn’t want to, well, because of the challenge.  And it wasn’t too easy to change things into French, even if it was amusing sometimes attempting to directly translate things like Irish slang into French.  Allez les mecs.

It’s a very strange experience and I’m starting to wonder why I decided to do this, but I’ve started it now, so I’m going to continue.  I’ll get the hang of it eventually…

The iPod Tragedy

Earlier this week I was silly enough to lose my iPod – which for me was the equivalent of a smartphone.  I looked for it all around the area I was in when I lost it, but to no avail.  Then, a couple of days later, I was informed that someone had put a sign up nearby saying they had found an iPod, and left their number.  So I got the number, and texted it to say I thought it was my iPod that they’d found.  The response?

“Oui je lai”

Or “Yes I have it” (should actually have been “je l’ai”, but whatever…).

Nothing else, no more information.

Basically, Taken 3 was happening.  I was about to transform into Liam Neeson, and go on a crazy mission to track down my beloved iPod…  Except then the person who’d found it told me when and where I could pick it up, so I just did that instead.  Handy.

Thank you very much to the lovely stranger who picked it up, and decided to give it back!  People – a great bunch of lads.