When you’re trying to become integrated in your new country, you get other people’s different ideas about how you should go about this process. It’s especially true when learning how to speak the language.
That is, the native speakers might offer advice something along the lines of:
‘You need to speak our language as much as possible.
‘You need to do your best to learn the words and expressions we use in everyday life.’
Which of course makes sense, as nobody would argue against linguistic fluency being key for foreigners’ moving towards an integrated life.
Sometimes this advice goes too far and becomes almost a directive to how language learners should behave. I’ve had questions from people that go like this:
‘After working all week in my new language, so to speak, is it okay if I watch a TV program in my own during the weekend?’
‘Is it okay if I read a news website in my own language?’
‘I’ve lived here awhile and have learned the language fairly well, but is it okay if I still speak my own language with a new guy – from my old country – who’s started at my company?’
These newcomers had obviously taken their language learning very, very seriously.
They needed reassurance that wanting to turn to the familiar was allowed and that it wouldn’t make them seem unwilling to acquire a new ‘system of words for communication’ (the Webster’s Dictionary definition for language).
So I had no problem giving them this reassurance, telling them that of course it was okay that they put on their mental bathrobe once in awhile and dipped into their own language and culture in the various media available to us all in these modern times.
Learning and trying out your new language means losing control, and sometimes you need to take it back, if only to get some comfort from the familiar for a brief time before heading back out into the unknown.