I speak four languages. My first language is Estonian which I learnt partly in school until the age of nine and then tried to prevent myself from losing it by practicing at home with my parents who are both Estonian. My second language is French as I grew up in a mainly French speaking country (Luxembourg) and attended a French school. My third language is Spanish which I’d been exposed to at an early age when my mother put me in a Spanish speaking kindergarten and then I went on to learn it at school when I moved to Spain.
My fourth language is English and it also happens to be the one I would say I am most fluent in and most comfortable with. I was first exposed to it through TV. My father, working in tech, had managed to somehow get access to American and British TV channels as well as other international TV channels. Luxembourgish and Estonian TV channels didn’t have much for kids back then (if anything the Estonian channels had old Soviet cartoons that you’d already seen by the time you left the delivery room and the Luxembourgish one had cartoons in Luxembourgish which no one actually speaks) but American TV certainly did. The rainy days in Luxembourg were spent watching re-runs of old Disney Channel and Nickelodeon shows. I didn’t care that they were in a language I couldn’t understand because slowly, I started to pick up on it. I was seven and I was watching Victorious, iCarly, That’s so Raven, and Jessie and I was learning, slowly but surely, a language I would grow to love. Then, when I moved to Spain, I started learning it at school and I fell in love with even more. I found it so easy and so natural to express myself in English that I started even thinking in English. If I didn’t know a word I was looking for in Spanish, I definitely knew it in English. If I was writing a grocery list or a to do list, I’d write it in English. If I listened to music, the lyrics would be in English. If I kept a journal, it was in English. If I read a book, it’d be in English. If I were watching a movie, I’d turn on the English subtitles. The English language, much like it dominates media, started to dominate my speech.
But whilst, I was growing to love English, I was losing my mother tongue. My parents had just given birth to two new siblings and were occupied with taking care of them so talking in general became rarer and rarer. If you’ve ever lost a language, you know, you know how much it sucks, especially if it is such a huge part of your identity. Suddenly, you can’t form coherent sentences and can’t find the words to express your deepest emotions, conversations in that language become a chore and a liability to those who are trying to understand your broken tongue so you just resort to shutting up, the word you’re looking for is at the tip of your tongue but you cannot seem to reach it however much you try, you see words but you can’t seem to actually read them, you thought knowing a language was like riding a bike – you never forget it- until you realise it’s not like riding a bike, it’s more like playing the piano: if you don’t practice, you’re bound to lose it.
So, though I love media for teaching me my first words in English and I know that the likelihood of me losing English is – thanks to media -minuscule, I still partly blame media for losing my Estonian. I acknowledge how blaming media is somehow denying the part I play in whether I know a language or not. I could simply go to an Estonian course and relearn what I’ve lost but I guess I thought that if media taught me English, it could very well teach me Estonian. Or at least help me not lose it, but the truth is I am not as exposed to Estonian media as I’d like to believe despite me loving both everything media and everything Estonia. I rarely ever watch Estonian films. I never read Estonian literature. I barely listen to Estonian music. I maybe read Estonian news once a week. I never thought I’d be complaining about lack of media exposure but here I am. I guess this proves how powerful media can be, how it can teach you a language unconsciously and equally, play a part in losing one.
I hope one day Estonian media grows to reach and target the Estonians outside of Estonia who still hold their country dear to their hearts and fear losing that almost dead language. I hope I can play a part in achieving that.