That Sounds About Right.
For example, a Swarthmore student studying abroad in a foreign country is completely immersed in their language. They will learn to pick up on the slang and cultural references, and will probably be better at having quick witted conversations, not having to think through a translation from English to the foreign language word by word. Enhancing their understanding of the foreign/additional language, they are able to contextualize what is being communicated and employ cultural cues and knowledge that can only be achieved by their immersive experience.
On the other hand, learning foreign languages in school involves a curriculum which uses English as a very strong baseline of support and many explanations are reverted back to English before being applied to the new language. While a student learning in this manner can undoubtedly achieve competency over time in the target language, their understanding will continually be routed through English.
You Are Where You Speak.
By recognizing the complexity and depth of athletics as their secondary speech community, these athletes and coaches (as language users and innovators) were able to better understand how to communicate to others about their sport and to change their language to one that is familiar to their audience. The language used in particular environments, both in athletics and learning a foreign language, creates an identity and community of speakers who are learning how to communicate most effectively with each other whether in the classroom or on the field.
You Are What You Speak.
When questioned on slang, athletic community members’ responses varied and reactions to what was considered useful, good language became a major topic of discussion. Athletes, coaches, administrators, and others all described the existence of an internal language within their communities in the athletics department, rather than the proper language they use in other settings. The degree to which they are comfortable with these internal languages increases due to exposure to both their own speech communities within athletics as well as those outside.
A parallel with learning conventional foreign languages can be drawn when we consider that multilingual people have reported improved English as a result of acquiring other languages. Multilingual people have proven to be better at multitasking and problem-solving, have better memory and decision-making skills, are more perceptive, and, as we mentioned, have improved English.
To learn more about how language defines who we are click here for a TEDx Talk by linguist Robyn Giffen, “Identifying Yourself Through Language,” discussing how her Canadian upbringing has affected her speech and her research on language in Ghana.
- Gosse, Bill. “Sports Has a Language All Its Own.” USA Today, Gannett Satellite Information Network, 4 June 2016.
- “Identifying Yourself Through Language.” Performance by Robyn Giffen, TEDx Talks, TEDx UBCOkanagan, 7 Aug. 2015.
- Hornberger, Nancy H., “"Trámites" and "Transportes": The acquisition of second language communicative competence for one speech event in Puno, Peru” , Applied Linguistics, 10 (1989) University of Pennsylvania Press.
- Merritt, Anne. “Why Learn a Foreign Language? Benefits of Bilingualism.” The Telegraph, Telegraph Media Group, 19 June 2013,
- MihalicÌek, Vedrana, and Christin Wilson. “What You Don't (Necessarily) Know When You Know a Language.” Language Files: Materials for an Introduction to Language and Linguistics, 11th ed., Ohio State Univ. Press, 2011, pp. 12–16.
- Stich, Stephen P. “What Every Speaker Knows”. The Philosophical Review, Vol. 80, No. 4 (Oct., 1971), Duke University Press. pp. 476-496.