I’m not a language expert. Though I have a degree in Linguistics, I am far from an academic. I do speak many languages… badly.
I was born in Toronto. My family is of Italian origin, but we always spoke English at home. The irony is that growing up, I hardly ever talked at all. But I still loved languages. I was just a bit shy. In fact many excellent language learners are introverts, and I think many who come to Diskuto events will fit in that category.
I learned French in elementary school in Toronto and became fluent enough to write our French Grade 8 school Christmas play: a tense legal drama in which Santa gets evicted from his workshop after Scrooge buys all the land in the North Pole (Luckily one of the toys, a Jack in the Box – Jacques dans la Boîte – jumps out and saves the day). My French peaked at age 17 when I lived in Nice, France for a summer taking a course. By that time I was also studying Latin at high school. I loved everything about Latin: grammar vocabulary, and especially learning about ancient Roman culture. When I got to university, after doing an economics degree, I also decided to do a Linguistics degree specializing in Latin and Ancient Greek. After graduation I lived in Italy for a year and was relatively fluent in Italian after two months of immersion. But when I returned from Europe it was hard to keep up my Italian: this was 2003; there weren’t many language meetups in Toronto, and no Skype yet—just Omni Television and Chin Radio. Over the last ten years I’ve worked at charities, newspapers magazines, and built websites—activities where language plays a big role.
I love being a beginner. In the past three and a half years I have tried to learn—with varying success—Egyptian Arabic, Spanish, German and Russian. I am very interested in learning Mandarin and Japanese when I can get a spare moment.
But in our busy world it is still not that easy to find ways to practice, or time.
Letting a language decay is something linguists call language attrition. To forget a language once well spoken is one of the biggest sources of regret for people as they get older. As for international students and immigrants who are paying a huge cost to move to Canada, learning English in school is one thing, but speaking it in daily life can be so intimidating.
The Diskuto team wants to help people keep practising the languages they have already learned. You already know the language–what would it take to keep you speaking?
Diskuto hopes to help provide an environment where, when you walk in the door, everyone knows you are there to speak. No awkwardness, nothing intimidating, no loud music. We want to offer enough events and in varied locations so that you have the flexibility to practice.
And we want to expand to other languages beyond English. More on that soon.
Basically, we offer that needed bit of structure, some friendly and pressure-free activities to make things interesting. We hope to remove the anxiety about speaking a language you may be shy about. And we hope to make it a lot of fun.