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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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.)

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!

Facebook Birthdays

(Disclaimer:  I’m probably not as angry as you may think I am about this after reading this post, like a lot of what I write here, it’s not meant to be taken too seriously!)

It irritates me when Facebook points out people’s birthdays to me.  For a number of reasons.  First of all, it’s patronising.  You think I’m not going to remember my best friend’s birthday?  Wow.  Thanks.  Concerned that I’ll forget my one of my brothers’ birthdays?  Okay, I may not have been alive when he was born, so I can’t remember that exact day, but I have since been filled in on when his birthday is, and remember it.  A lot of people seem to do this.  It’s not that difficult.

Secondly, let’s say I don’t know when someone’s birthday is.  But Facebook tells me.  That seems kind of useful, right?  But now if I wish them a happy birthday, it’s just because I’ve been told to.  That doesn’t count.  It’s like when people purposefully remind you that it’s someone else’s birthday.  Then it undoes any further birthday wishes offered after that moment.  I was going to remember on my own, okay?

Another problem with Facebook’s insistence on telling us all when everyone’s birthday is, is that I get told about lots of people’s birthdays.  Most of whom, I’ve wished a happy birthday to on Facebook at least once or twice already.  I assume, at this stage, that they just know the drill.  Yes, I hope you have a great birthday.  No, I am not bothered writing it on your Facebook wall again, unless you’re a close friend and I’m going to write something with a bit more thought put into it than “happy birthday <name>”, with an optional smiley face thrown in.

This may seem a bit strange when this practice of wishing people a happy birthday as a once off doesn’t happen much in ‘real life’, but consider the fact that I may barely have seen the person in question since I last wished them a happy birthday, on Facebook.  It doesn’t matter any more if I say it to them or not.  It’s not going to have an impact on them if I don’t.

…You might be able to tell, but I’m not really one for celebrating my own birthday, hence the general lack of fuss about birthdays in general on my part.

The notifications, when sent, are the worst.  So now we don’t even need to remember to look at the top right corner of the screen to see if it’s someone’s birthday, we actually get a little virtual nudge and an update telling us whose birthday it is today.  Why do we even bother with these ‘brain’ and ‘memory’ things we have?  Sure Facebook will remember things for us, there’s no need to prevent our memories from getting worse all the time because of technology – technology’s going to allow us to survive without even having a decent memory.

I read too much into these things.

Happy birthday to everyone ever, I hope all of your birthdays are fantastic.  There, I think that covers everyone.