When I was signing for the course on MULTILINGUAL LEARNING FOR A GLOBALISED WORLD on FutureLearn, I was motivated primarily by professional considerations, as a lecturer of English language (and literature and culture and history, too). I never thought about my own experience of learning languages, and I think this oblivion was willed – and unconscious. My own experience is characterised by a sense of betrayal, nostalgia, loss; trauma, struggle, triumph; and, above all, in spite of all the other emotions, there was a sense of joy, exultation and delight of learning new languages, new sensibilities, new meanings, new feelings. For me, learning a language or reading a text in a foreign language – or now, increasingly, in my own language – is a process characterised by relishing the structure, the sounds, the constructions, even the grammar. Everything in a new language is exciting, it is like meeting a new person or reading a new book. Nowadays, in our fast-track twenty-first century, people have too little time to enjoy and relish languages – all languages, including one’s own.
Thus, for me, reading week 3 material on language as art came as a surprise at first, but then I recognised my own feelings and sensations when, at school, I decided to really crack on English, at which I used to be quite bad. Until the final years of my school, my primary passion, mixed with the feelings of patriotism and nostalgia, was for my mother tongue, Russian. However, for practical reasons, I decided to learn English, and to do it well. As you may guess from the fact I am writing in English now, I succeeded, and I believe it was due to the fact I loved the process. One of my motivations was the ability to read the authors I loved in their original tongue, to see in the original something that may have been lost in translation or was simply untranslatable.
One of the unexpected outcomes of my learning English well in the final three years of school was that I decided to study English philology at the University of Latvia. In fact, English or Russian philology were the only two subjects I could have studied in a state-supported higher education institution back then, I did not speak or write Latvian well back then. I think my lack of Latvian was a kind of resistance strategy against all the discrimination against the Russian speakers going on back then and, I must say with regret, and still continuing to an extent. Given my own experience of being limited by my language in my choice of studies and carrier, I can readily empathise with what was said on the need for multilingual and multimodal learning for children. I feel that many Russian children in Latvia were, and still are, prevented from going on to the higher education due to their inability to write fluent Latvian or because they think they will not be able to be as good as their peers, who were educated in Latvian schools. The choice could also have economic consequences, because the state universities have a number of bursaries and studentships for the best students, and those who cannot write fluent prose will be left out from the very beginning, or at least will have their options for further studies limited by their (lack of) language proficiency. In a sense, the choice of Latvian as a language of the higher education is pragmatic – after all, it is the only official state language in Latvia. On the other hand, I cannot help suspecting that the emphasis on quality writing and the entrance exams which included a test of Latvian when I was applying, result in the exclusion, not entirely inadvertent, of Russian speakers from the opportunities to get education for free.
Thus, even in a democratic EU state, language can be a tool for power, manipulation and discrimination, a tool that is all the more dangerous because linguistic choices are often advertised as being purely pragmatic.