My Transition from Conservatism to Beneficial Flexibility



Since the day I was born, I have literally bathed in foreign languages. As I was born two years after the Soviet Union collapsed, my family, eyewitnessing the unemployment and financial turmoil of the epoch, instilled in me the inevitable necessity of learning several foreign languages and moving abroad later on. The curious thing is that, in spite of being a little child, I never resisted that. I loved the idea of exploring the entirely new world of languages other than my own. I started learning English at the age of three - my mother would always teach me Russian letters (it is my mothertongue), along with the English alphabet. My grandmother is to be given credit for teaching me the basics of the French language; we spent hours walking in nearby parks as she was stuffing me with a bunch of new French words on a regular basis.

Years later, the crucial moment finally came. At age 18, I left Ukraine with my family to settle in Montreal, Canada. Coming here marks a brand-new chapter in my life and accounts for a great many changes I have undergone as a person ever since. Importantly, unlike many expatriates from my country, I did not have much difficulty integrating the new environment, at least on a linguistic level. However, even having that asset in my possession, I was still having a hard time understanding people around me, not as much in terms of language as in terms of mentality and cultural differences. Overall, it would be rather hard for me to think of one particular experience that has shaped me as a person as I have had a great deal of situations that I could draw a lesson from (both in Ukraine and in Montreal). Nevertheless, I strongly believe that what has moulded my character in a most drastic manner happened after I crossed the border.

As I have already mentioned above, I am really big into languages, which apparently accounts for my spick-and-span attitude toward linguistic details. Pronunciation, coming to the fore as one of the most significant and important facets of mastering a foreign language (at least in my understanding), put me in a bit of an agony when I came to Montreal. It is fair to note that in my country, as I believe in the majority of post-Soviet republics, the standard form of the English language is considered to be British English. Equally, British pronunciation (aka Received Pronunciation) is primarily the one that students are taught at school and especially at university (provided that a university is specialized in foreign languages, of course). Since I spent two years at such a university, at the department of Roman-German philology and lingusitics, the question of pronouncing English words with a pronunciation and intonation other than British never even occurred to me.

Moreover, I have always taken an enormous pleasure in speaking with a British accent. It took me quite a while to master it to the best of my ability, which included listening to tons of native spoken material (e.g., interviews with British actors and actresses, etc.), and trying to emulate the manner they spoke and the sounds they pronounced. Naturally, I was extremely proud of myself when I finally got the desired clean accent practically identical to that of native speakers. At that point of my life, I was absolutely convinced that I would never ever switch to the then-disfavored-by-me Amercian accent. I was, trully and utterly, a staunch supporter of an English pronounced and spoken a la the British Queen.

I have to say that I was an inveterate idealist when I left my native country. I never had a shadow of a doubt that I would have to and, what is more, want to change anything about my attitude toward life in general and toward my way of speaking specifically. Even a year into my Canadian stay, I continued to express myself in British English, never minding that certain people (given that Montreal is a very multi-cultural city), had a tough time understanding me. I would rarely speak in English with francophones - I was keen on practising my French whenever the opportunity presented itself, - however, when it came to communicating and getting a particular message across to immigrants from various countries like myself, I spoke with my notorious Received Pronunciation, which 'slightly' puzzled them.

I was already at Concordia when, to my greatest disappointment, I discovered that I was gradually starting to lose heart whenever I had to speak. Surrounded by students who would all stick to the American accent, I started to sound artificial to myself, all those prim and proper Briticisms being virtually out of place. Although Canadians would always compliment me on my classic fancy pronunciation, I did not like being a black sheep, not in the slightest. I suddenly felt the overwhelming desire of being on the same wavelength with people whose country had become adopted to me.

The desire became almost tangible when, a year later, I transferred from the English Department to the French one and enrolled in the Translation program. As a matter of fact, I had always wanted to be a translator but, given some circumstances, I did not go for that straight after my arrival. So, English literature was a sort of springboard for me to start off and feel solid ground beneath my feet; plus I got more acquainted with some of the greatest masterpieces written in the English language.

However I might have enjoyed literature, though, in my heart of hearts, I knew that the occupation that would fit me to a T was translation, which eventually spurred my transfer to the Translation program. And there I finally found harmony with American pronunciation. As is known, being a translator requires extreme flexibility in terms of language. Since I knew that a translator`s main task is to assure a quality interpretation of a particular message from one language to another, as well as its high intelligibility, I figured that I would have to adjust my pronunciation and vocabulary to those of the country where I would get to work as a translator. And since I had come to North America and knew that I would, evidently, stay there at least for a while, I suddenly got the desire to master the American accent as well as I earlier did the British accent. That being said, I also promised myself that in case I got to work in Britain, I would definitely revive my good old pronunciation.

And yet, notwithstanding my eventual willingness to embrace American English, I have to admit that it took me a while to trample out certain British sounds and perhaps even now I sometimes lose the American intonation in the middle of a sentence or start swallowing 'r's at the end of certain words. And nevertheless, I would never have imagined that it would please me to speak like everyone around me to the extent that it does now. It is probably hard to explain to someone who has never been in my shoes but, in fact, I feel a lot freer now that I have come to terms with the notion of flexibility - the notion of being open-minded as well as ready to accept and endorse positive changes about yourself as a personality. Surely, at least for myself, all that holds true not only for linguistic scruples but for life and the manner of living one`s life in general.

This experience has shown me that one can naturally be quite happy and satisfied with something one has stuck to for a long time. However, one should never say never to unpredictable twists and turns that life reserves for all of us in an unlimited quantity - one day you might cease to cherish an idea that has always seemed to be the only one and true to you and start to WANT to embrace something that is completely on the other end of the spectrum.

All things considered, I strongly believe that my language experience accompanied by doubts and conservatism in the beginning but crowned with revelation and appreciation in the end has efficiently helped me combat the notorious inclination toward idolatry which the majority of adolescents are prone to. From now on, I know that I will try my best to stay true to what I love without idealizing it and leave room for other things that I may, one day, consider useful and even necessary for my evolution as a person.

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