In my English language journey there have been many twists and turns that have allowed me to end up where I am currently at today. Many of the different influences that have impacted my English-speaking journey include when I started speaking English, being the oldest child, and media outlets, but I think the biggest impact on my English speaking is the many different speech communities that I have been influenced by.
One speech community that has had a great impact on my English is while I worked in the Ohio Corrections Department. The staff at the prison spoke in various dialects of English based on where they were born and raised, and there were even more dialects spoken by the inmates I oversaw. We had staff from all parts of the United States as well as several parts of Africa and Mexico. All the staff members that worked at my prison spoke English prior to coming to America because it was taught to them in their respective countries. I believe that Barber Beal and Shaw explain this the best when they said, “The worldwide expansion of English means that it is now one of the most widely spoken languages of the world. Estimates of the numbers of speakers of English vary widely, but even the most modest of these agree that there are well over 400 million speakers for whom English is a native language and many more for whom English is a second or foreign language” (Barber 241).
Another speech community that has affected my English language process is while I am working within the school system and at the same time going to college as a student. While in college we are tasked and sometimes required to speak in a more academic language within our writings and classroom discussions. When we are children we are taught to speak starting with the most basic and essential words. I was roughly two years old when I started to speak and my first few words were mama, dada, and baba. Now that I am at a college level of speaking English we are expected to be able to communicate with other people on that level of English. Many collegiate words such as antithesis, existential, and juxtaposition are words that I had never heard of prior to attending college but now they are a part of my vocabulary when speaking. As for working in the school system, there are many acronyms that I use often such as IEP, 504 plan, and differentiation that most people outside of a school system would not understand or normally use in their everyday English language.
One thing that I have noticed while working in the education system, is that when I have students come in for the first day of school I can oftentimes tell if they have been read to a lot as a child or not. The way I can tell is that, most times, the students who have been read to a lot as a child have a larger vocabulary and accurately use the vocabulary. I attribute this to them being exposed to many more words as a young child than their peers who were not read to very much as a child growing up. When I was young my parents did not read to me very often but once my brothers and sister were born I loved to read to them. I would read picture books and create stories from my imagination about what was taking place in the story based on the pictures and I would also love to read very basic, one sentence per page, books to my siblings. I think this process helped me grow as a reader and as an English-speaking person.
When I was growing up we only spoke English in our house and everyone I knew only spoke English. Once I reached the high school level, however, I started to learn to speak Spanish. During this class I had to learn the proper way that English phrases and sentences were supposed to be structured so we could then break them down and translate the into Spanish. If a subject or a verb were out of order in English it would affect the translation to Spanish causing it to be wrong as well. My brother wore hearing aids when he was a young child and my mother, grandmother, brother, and I, all learned how to speak using sign language. We did not learn enough to be fluent in sign language, but we did learn enough to carry on a conversation while at home or when he did not have his hearing aids in and struggled to hear us. Most of our conversations were using the basic words of cup, plate, thank you, no, yes, stop, to get our immediate conversation across to one another. We did not stress over every word that would have been spoken in between such as if I would speak the phrase, “I would like a glass of water please” when signing this we would shorten it to cup, water, please.
The fact that we can have these types of conversations within the English language is truly what sets up apart from any other form of communication that takes place in the wild. Animals, according to Barber Beal and Shaw, “Communicate with one another, or at any rate stimulate one another to action by means of cries…Animal’s cries are not articulate” (Barber 1). We do not just make singular noises to communicate with one another. We can say the same thing with many different tones to portray different meanings. We as English-speaking people are able to articulate exactly what we are feeling, thinking, or wanting, by adding inflection to our voices. We can also use inflection to uptalk, which is what my children use when they are making a statement that they are unsure about. I probably use this also in speaking when taking an educated guess about something or speaking on a topic I am not quite sure about, and just do not realize when I am doing it.
The last thing that I feel has had a large impact on my English language journey is technology and media. When I was growing up we did not have cell phones and computer access but rather we had the old-fashioned typewriters. When we wanted to type something, we typed out every letter of every word because that is how we were taught to do it. Now, people use abbreviations for most words and acronyms for other words and proper English has went by the wayside. No longer do most people worry about punctuation, spelling, grammar, and other components of English but rather, they worry about getting the most information out in the least number of letters possible. I would almost say that technology has caused a leveling effect among most people in the United States because people of all ages and all walks of life who have a cell phone can explain what LOL, BRB, and OMG stand for but prior to cell phones had no clue what they were.
While there are many different aspects that have affected my English language journey, the most impactful of them all, I feel, was my speech communities. I think this was the most impactful because it is where most of my time was spent and it was spent among many different individuals. Each person I encountered added their own dialect and personal spin on how they spoke and used the English language and thus, molded my English language into what it is today.