Abstract Memoirs and autobiographical writing on language learning provide perspectives on migration and residence in North America and Europe for the most part, where struggle and loss are some of the recurrent themes (Aneta Pavlenko 2001a; Besemeres 2004; Kinginger 2004a). An unaddressed aspect of foreign language learning remains the ‘reverse’ experience of individuals from these regions learning languages of other regions. The aim is to provide an account of such experiences, based on language memoirs by North American women writing of their foreign language learning experiences in South Asia. In addition to typical issues of pedagogical interest such as the long-term process of language learning and the role of affect, this article discusses the language ideologies of Western learners in South Asia as well as literacy development in new orthographies. These language memoirs provide us with highly contextualized accounts of foreign language learning from infrequently studied contexts. 1. INTRODUCTION Cross-cultural autobiographical writing, and language memoirs in particular, highlight the writer’s examination of ‘one’s own cultural world in relation to some other world’ (Pavlenko 2001a; Besemeres 2010: 219). Further, the sub-genre that Besemeres (2010) identifies as stories of ‘language travel’ and Kaplan (1993) termed ‘language memoirs’ is admirably suited to the exploration of contextualized foreign language learning (FLL). Since the late 1990s, scholars such as Besemeres (1998, 2005 2008, 2010) and Pavlenko (1998, 2001b, 2006b, 2007) have inspired and encouraged the use of language memoirs as rich narratives with introspective data on the learning of a new language and culture. Such contributions, nevertheless, have been limited with few exceptions to language memoirs based in Western contexts, that is, Northern America, Europe, or Australia. This article addresses this absence by examining language memoirs by North Americans learning languages in South Asia. Even though all migrants need to adjust to new surroundings, the ‘acquisition and use of a new language, in particular one that is typologically different from one’s native language’ adds an additional burden (Pavlenko 2006a: 2). From a pedagogical perspective, knowledge of process and context becomes more important as the range of foreign languages offered across the world broadens, incorporating not only the ‘traditional’ modern languages (a debateable term in any case) such as French, Spanish, German, or Russian, but also Arabic, Farsi, Hindi, or Chinese. This examination of Western learners of languages in South Asia points to pedagogical concerns common to learners elsewhere, but also brings out unique aspects of living and learning in South Asia, in terms of literacy development and language ideologies. These issues are studied through the examination of autobiographical writing by six female authors visiting South Asia in recent times. 2. POSITIONING LANGUAGE MEMOIRS IN SOUTH ASIA The point of departure for this article is the recent work on autobiographical writing in the form of memoirs. Kaplan (1993) explains in her well-known memoir French Lessons that ‘scholarly disquisitions’ on second language acquisition are methods and statistics and the occasional anecdote, but nothing, really, about what is going on inside the head of the person who suddenly finds herself passionately engaged in new sounds and a new voice, who discovers that ‘chat’ is not a cat at all, but a new creature in new surroundings. (p. 59) This realization came at a time when there was a growing interest in the ‘narratorial self’ in its many forms (e.g. diaries, elicited reflexive writings, essays). In the form of published memoirs especially, narratives brought in ‘the indispensable role of private memory and imagination in language learning’ (Kramsch 2004: 11). A compelling example of such private memory and imagination is Rich (2009)’s quote, referenced in the title: ‘originally, I’d thought that if I could [learn Hindi] it would be like cracking a strange veiled code, a shimmering triumphant entry, but by now all it was was someone talking’ (p. xv). Thus far, scholars working on autobiographical writing have explored learners’ experiences in assimilating (and resisting) to the new culture, bilingual identities or selves, and affective dimensions in learning a new language in a new setting (Besemeres 2004, 2005; Kinginger 2004a; Pavlenko 2006a, 2006b). Much of the previous work on second language acquisition or foreign language leaning in relation to emotion has centred on negative affect, that is, stress, anxiety, fear, embarrassment, though exceptions are Ingrid Piller’s work on language desire as well as language and desire (Piller 2002; Piller and Takahashi 2006).11 An important contribution through the use of language memoirs has been the ability to move from a focus on negative emotions and point out the complexity of our feelings in relation to using language (Besemeres 2004; Kinginger 2004a; Piller and Takahashi 2006; Pavlenko 2007; Kramsch 2009). Previously, two types of language travel have been discussed. The larger group consists of migrant narratives, that is, writing by people who migrated as children or adolescents to North America (Pavlenko 2001a, 2004; Besemeres 2004). The other group consists of long-term residents of Western origin (North American, British, European, or Australian) in other Western regions (usually European) where they are confronted with a different language. To this category falls the discussion of memoirs by writers such as Nancy Huston, Sarah Turnbull (both in France), and Gillian Bouras (in Greece) (Kinginger 2004b; Besemeres 2008). Nearly a decade after the surge of memoir-based analyses of language learning, exceptions to studies of English and other European languages remain Besemeres’ work on Peter Hessler’s stay in China and John Mateer’s Indonesian trip (Besemeres 2008, 2010). For the most part, Besemeres uses these accounts to counter the claim that Western travellers’ writings inevitably create an Other of the foreign culture, but do not pay much attention to language acquisition. The language learning experiences of Westerners travelling outside their own regions, therefore, remain largely unaddressed and are the main focus of this article. South Asia is particularly interesting for the exploration of cross-cultural autobiographies. Well-known for its multilingual character, it has a significant European colonial history. At present, it is also a source and destination for labour and investments from other parts of the world. Suprastate institutions such as the United Nations as well as international non-governmental organizations are heavily involved in South Asian affairs (Bhutan is an exception). It is also a region that has speakers of languages categorized as ‘critical languages’ or ‘less commonly taught languages’ (e.g. Arabic, Hindi, and Tamil) in North American educational institutions. All these reasons make South Asia an interesting region for consideration. I now turn to a few theoretical issues that are important for my reading of the texts presented here: the gendered and linguistic aspects of Orientalism. Colonial narrative templates of Europeans and North Americans living (and learning) in the region exist in the form of administrative journals and travel writing (Korte 2000; Duncan and Gregory 2002). Travellers continue to arrive in South Asia for similar reasons as in the past, albeit in their modern form: religious missionary work, projects civilizing the ‘East’ through ‘Western’ labour (working in non-governmental organizations, teaching in schools), or as explorers in the form of researchers and scholars. It is these similarities to colonial travel functions that make Orientalism (Said 2006) a productive theoretical framework for use in this article. Originally an explanation of Europeans rationalizing the unknown East as a mysterious and savage ‘other’ to justify their ‘taming’ by European rational thought, Orientalism is extended by scholars such as Yoshihara (2003) to America of the early 20th century, when American women’s early travel writing was a way of ‘consuming’ the Orient and ‘authorizing’ it to a Western readership. Travel memoirs for the most part, including the language memoirs considered in this article, appear to function in the same vein. They are narratives of North American women providing ‘authentic’ experiences for a Western readership. At the same time, as Besemeres (2005, 2010) points out, to treat all ‘Western’-produced memoirs as Imperialist is to deny the self-reflexivity of some writers who provide insightful accounts of the host culture. The texts analysed in this study allow us a nuanced understanding of how this transformation takes place, even within the post-colonial master-narrative. Orientalist consumption of the culture is, nevertheless, inextricably linked to the travellers’ language ideologies, or the ‘cultural conceptions of the nature, form and purpose of language, and of communicative behaviour as an enactment of collective order’ (Gal and Woolard 1995: 130). The choice of place or language is made with a desire for an ‘authentic’ experience of exotic culture and language (inextricably tied together as we will see in Part 4), and influences the attitude and motivation of the learner, their acculturation, and language learning process. In a sense, one could argue that their ardent desire to be fluent in these languages or their success as learners are results of their focus on the language as an exotic, desirable object. Yet, their narratives do not always adhere to simple Orientalist narratives, as is shown in Part 4. At the same time, I would like to point out that at least in these narratives the ‘othering’ of these foreign languages (Hindi, Sinhala, Dzongkha, amongst others) is a joint project, undertaken by both the visitor and some of the South Asians they meet. Pavlenko (2001b) has already noted that of cross-cultural autobiographical writing, language memoirs in particular are a gendered genre inhabited mostly by women. Similar to the narrative voices analysed by Pavlenko—all residents or expatriates from the USA—language memoirs on South Asian language learning are also by women. While rich accounts of South Asian travel have been provided by male writers, for example Dalrymple's (1993),City of Djinns and Theroux’s (2006)The Great Railway Bazaar, language learning is not a significant aspect of these narratives. Even if there are similar travel narratives by women that exclude language learning aspects, it is still significant that memoirs with a major focus on language learning happen to be written only by women. The historical context of travel writing by women is also an important consideration at this point. Scholars of travel and biographical writing have already paid attention to the rare women travellers of the 18th, 19th, and early 20th centuries, for example, Isabella Bird and Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, narrating experiences of travel outside Europe (Korte 2000). In this sense, the writers I consider here follow in their footsteps. Furthermore, as Pavlenko (2001b) points out, the woman traveller is still European-American, and we are yet to read stories by non-White female travellers in Asia. A difference between these and previously studied language memoirs must be noted here however. If the prevalent metanarrative of the American or European cross-cultural autobiography is that of the successful migrant or visitor who achieves success after many trials and tribulations (see Pavlenko 2001a; Kinginger 2004b), the metanarrative of the Western (women’s) memoir of South Asia is that of the spiritual or personal transformation accorded by travel to an exotic location. 3. DATA AND METHODS The texts used for this article fulfil four criteria. First, they are limited to cross-cultural autobiographies published in English approximately within the past 15 years. My aim here is to contribute to current concerns of language teaching and learning, such as learner interaction and socialization, bilingualism, learner identity, and global forces on local learning contexts (King and Mackey 2016), all issues that these texts speak to. At the same time, the focus on texts written in English leaves out any consideration of texts that may be relevant but published in other languages. Secondly, these texts are all written by authors from outside South Asia. Since diasporic narratives of rediscovering roots have a different historicity and connection to South Asia, these were excluded from this selection. Sadly, I did not come across any work by Black, Latina, or other minority writers on residence and language learning in South Asia, which resulted in a shortlist that consisted solely of authors of North American, British, and European origin. This is further evidence that travel writing up to date remains a largely ‘white’ and Western genre. Since some of the more recent study abroad research is based on short-term stays (showing a change in study-abroad programs themselves, see Kinginger 2013), I chose to look at texts that described extended stays in the host country. Longer stays create more needs and opportunities for language learning, affordances not available during short-term stays of a few weeks, even when the primary reason for travel is not FLL. Added to these criteria was a final constraint, that the texts include extensive language learning descriptions. These criteria resulted in the final selection of six texts which form the basis of this article: Dreaming in Hindi by Rich (2009), Not Quite Paradise by Barker (2010), Sideways on a Scooter by Kennedy (2011), Married to Bhutan by Leaming (2011), Zeppa’s (2011),Beyond the Sky and the Earth, and Elizabeth Enslin’s (2014),When the Gods Were Sleeping. These works also confirm that the language memoir is still a decisively (white, Western) gendered genre (Pavlenko 2001b). The following is a brief summary of each book. Dreaming in Hindi: Coming Awake in Another Language by Rich (2009) is an account of her residence in India at a Hindi study abroad programme, a decision made when she is diagnosed with metastatic (or stage 4) cancer. Staying for almost a year with a Jain family, she volunteers at a school for deaf children and takes part in many events in her host city, Udaipur. On her return to the USA, Rich researches the process of language learning extensively (albeit from a cognitive linguistic rather than a sociolinguistic perspective), using it to understand her own learning. Written by Barker (2010), Not Quite Paradise: An American Sojourn in Sri Lanka is in two parts. It begins with her one year visit as a Fulbright scholar in Sri Lanka teaching Russian literature at a local university. The second part narrates her return to the country after the Asian tsunami in 2004. Sideways on a Scooter: Life and Love in India (2011) by the American journalist Miranda Kennedy describes her five-year residence in New Delhi, India, where she worked for local and foreign media companies. It focuses to a large extent on her friendships with a diverse group of Indian women. Leaming’s (2011) Married to Bhutan: How One Woman Got Lost, Said ‘I Do’, and Found Bliss is the humorously narrated story of Leaming’s life in Bhutan. She moves to Bhutan from the USA in the late 1990s and finds work as an English language teacher, settling in Bhutan after her marriage to a Bhutanese. The memoir is an account of her language learning and acculturation. The Canadian Zeppa’s (2011) Beyond the Sky and the Earth: A Journey into Bhutan is a rich account of her two-year residence and work in east Bhutan. Zeppa teaches at local institutions and learns not only Bhutanese languages, but also about contentious politics in modern Bhutan. Elizabeth Enslin is an American anthropologist who moves to Nepal after her marriage to a fellow graduate student, a Nepali. While the Gods Were Sleeping: A Journey through Love and Rebellion in Nepal (2014) documents the initial few years of her life in a small Nepali village, as she engages in research for her doctoral studies and becomes used to life in the village. Enslin (2014) and Kennedy (2011) are better termed cross-cultural autobiographies as they lack the attention to pedagogical concerns that would make a true language memoir, as the other texts do. However, they still contribute to the main question I ask—‘what are the significant themes in the language learning experiences of these authors?’—as do the others. All authors are first language speakers of English. While Zeppa, Leaming, and Kennedy do not mention prior language learning, Rich and Enslin refer to language learning attempts prior to their more successful language learning in South Asia. Rich (2009) ‘screwed up’ attempts to learn French, Spanish, and Turkish at an earlier point in her life, which were short-lived because her ‘enthusiasm would wither’ (pp. 9–10). Enslin (2014) starts to learn Hindi and Marathi during her doctoral studies, in preparation for research in India. Barker does not mention previous language learning, but is presumably a Russian speaker given her expertise in Russian studies. Barker’s ambiguous case cautions us against deciding that a writer is monolingual solely based on the text. Despite some forays into other languages, however, these authors appear to be primarily monolingual at the beginning of their residency in South Asia. My analysis is informed by theories of language ideologies, literacy, and Orientalist critiques, theories that fall under the broad construct of post-modernism. An initial analysis of the chosen texts revealed a large number of topics, including language learning and teaching, as well as gender (e.g. life as a Western woman in their host country) and politics (e.g. different views of 9/11 afforded by their lives in these countries), themes which are not suitable for analysis through the typical linguistic theories relating to cognition or second language acquisition. Orientalism and language ideologies were deemed more suitable for the analysis of the four themes presented in this article: the writers’ attention to the process of FLL, the difficult pleasures afforded by learning a new language, the entry to a new culture through language, and experiencing literacy in a new orthography. These themes lent themselves to Orientalist critiques given their relation to writing by colonial travellers to South Asia previously (see Duncan and Gregory 2002). Ideologies of language and literacy complement postcolonial theories, providing a more thorough investigation into the perception of differences in languages. 4. LEARNING FROM LANGUAGE TRAVEL IN SOUTH ASIA 4.1 ‘The next plateau’: The language learning process On a study abroad, though, don’t you naturally absorb, say, Italian, the way watery breezes plump your hair on the Emerald Coast: by osmosis? The truth, though it sounds cynical, will be: You wish. (Rich 2009: 37) Our inability to acquire language through osmosis, as Rich’s (2009) quote above demonstrates, is one reason for the necessity for sources such as language memoirs. Longitudinal studies on the process of learning languages (how did you learn it?) should be more important considerations for the applied linguistics scholar than the end product (how much proficiency do you have now?) but are at the same time difficult research undertakings (see Pavlenko 1998; Pavlenko and Lantolf 2000). Narratives recounting long-term undertakings by articulate learners, such as the narrators of language memoirs, are important for this very reason. As Rich (2009) writes, nothing in her previous experience as a young learner of Spanish and French had prepared her for her experience of learning Hindi. The expectation that language would be learnt easily and fast—through osmosis as it were—when the learner lives within the target language speech community, reflects a common expectation of language learning, and one on which FLL study abroad programmes are founded. While immersion does make the language more accessible to learners, these writers provide for public consumption what prior research has shown scholars: that an adult language learner must continue to engage in a multiplicity of conscious learning activities over a lengthy period of time to make progress. A variety of learning strategies and difficulties are described here. Covering walls with ‘Post-its that peel off in the night’ containing ‘complicated verb tenses, elaborate sentence fragments’ from comic books (Rich 2009: 97); setting aside regular time to memorize useful words and phrases; accessing native speakers and historical texts for explanations of new phrases and repetitive listening are all part of it (Barker 2010; Kennedy 2011; Enslin 2014). ‘Desperate’ to communicate in Dzongkha, Leaming (2011) confesses: ‘I eavesdropped on conversations in restaurants. I appropriated snippets of conversation. I was a word pick pocket, clandestinely writing things down phonetically in my notebook’ (p. 62). The metaphor is evocative, illustrating the desire and the mental agility necessary to become a successful language learner. As committed learners, the narrators use strategies consciously, expending continuous energy on them and throwing themselves into spaces where they must inevitably use the language. Despite these preparations, the authors share similar difficulties in phonology and pragmatics, difficulties that have also been covered in other memoirs.22 The writers provide detailed contextualized accounts of areas that students with typologically different first languages may face when learning South Asian languages: pronunciation of multisyllabic Sanskrit-origin words (of Sinhala, Barker 2010) and identifying and producing phonemic distinctions, of aspiration in Sharchhop (Zeppa 2011) and vowel length in Hindi (Rich 2009). Leaming (2011) provides pronunciation guides for Dzongkha names: ‘On our way, we stopped in a small town called Wangdue (pronounced Wong-DEE), and short for Wangdue Phodrang (forget it)…’ (p. 23, emphases added). Her bracketed instructions are an admission of pronunciation difficulties as much as it is an indication of her current ‘insider’ status in the Dzongkha speech communities. Language memoirs also complicate our understanding of testing and evaluation, the foundation of which is that measurements of language performance taken at a single time captures the student’s overall language competence on the whole at that time. Consider Rich (2009) using Hindi in and outside school: At school, I’m still dead last, too self-conscious to push myself in front of the others, but outside, I ski Hindi, have long gleeful conversations in shops (gleeful for me, long for my interlocutors). I kick off and really fly sometimes. (p. 97, emphases added) Exhilarating experiences of language use are possible for Rich at this point only outside the formal instructional space. Barker (2010) may find herself at a loss when giving condolences to an employee, yet is able to use public transport, do grocery shopping, and even reject an offer for sale of an elephant (not an idea generally used for test items!). Not only do these narratives then question the validity of traditional testing measures, but they also make it imperative that we see beyond the static image of the ‘low proficiency student’ in our classrooms. One of the most significant ‘ethnographic’ contributions by language memoirs (Besemeres 2010) is in terms of language socialization. Though written by adults, and in most instances not by learners in a formal sense (only Rich falls to this category), these language memoirs show a process of explicit socialization. In Nepal, Enslin’s in-laws and visiting female neighbours teach her new phrases; in Bhutan, both Zeppa and Leaming are given similar ‘lessons’ by their students; and strangers take it upon themselves to correct their language errors. It is apparent from these descriptions that not only is language socialization explicit, but that teaching the foreign student is a communal effort in the region, with neighbours, landlords, family and friends, hosts, and their own students serving as agents of this socialization. Its link to enculturation will be dealt with in Section 4.3. 4.2 ‘Being blasted into a world’: The thorny pleasures of language learning Studies of migrant or bilingual writing have already established the major role that emotion plays in learning English and other languages (Pavlenko 2006b; Kramsch 2009). Even with the hope and excitement of new discoveries, the experience of learning a new language and culture is fraught with difficult emotions such as resentment, anger, and frustration. In multilinguals such difficulties lead to comparisons of already learnt languages or to the resentment that Leaming (2011) feels, for example, when learning to write Dzongkha: ‘I began to think that English was a better language. Why wasn’t Dzongkha sensible, like English?’ (p. 60). Writing and reading are particular sources of anxiety, as we see in Section 4.4. Learners exposing themselves to the unregulated spaces outside classrooms are constantly tested on their knowledge. In Dreaming in Hindi, an Indian tells Rich (2009) that her command of spoken Hindi is not proficient, a judgement that hinders her ability to produce language later: ‘I didn’t think so, but soon after, I stopped capping sentences with verbs, became communicatively incompetent all around’ (p. 131). It is an illustration of the learner’s fragile identity, vulnerable to hostile judgement. The following is a lengthier example of such a situation from Leaming (2011). After much practice Leaming feels confident enough to exhibit her ‘new semi-command’ of Dzongkha to an important government official during a chance encounter in a store. She turns to him to say ‘I believe you are going to the reception for Lyonpo?’ but inadvertently comes out with ‘Please take off your clothes and lie down’ (pp. 65–66), a phrase meant for Bhutanese doctor–patient communication in her books. Even though recounted humorously for her readers, the loss of face and mortification she faces is evident, and stands as an example of the risks taken by learners embedded in the target language community. Yet, language memoirs are also affidavits of pleasure as shown in this remarkable passage by Barker (2010): This week I am supposed to learn the days of the week, soul-destroying multisyllabic words that, despite being part of an Indo-European language, resemble nothing, just nothing, that I know. After several months I stop doing anything on Tuesday because I can’t remember the word. Angaharuwada, a word that is pronounceable only if it is implanted on a piece of paper in front of my face. Meetings take place on a Monday or are put off until Wednesday. Preferably everything should be done on a Thursday, because Brahaspatinda flows like liquid off my tongue. In English there’s something very German and heavy about Thursday which is, after all, Thor’s day, but in Sinhalese the soft consonants turn Thursday into something close to a linguistically erotic experience (p. 108, emphases in original). Such pleasures or ‘thrills’ of language learning are little researched, with the trope of loss given much attention (such as Pavlenko 1998; but see Piller and Takahashi 2006). Pleasure and desire are aspects appearing throughout these memoirs. In the extract above, Barker (2010) dwells on the pleasures of the new language, where words are ‘liquid’-like, and near ‘erotic’ (p. 108). Rich (2009) is another example of the romance of language: two months after Hindi lessons started, she ‘was reading Devanagari now and cranking, nursing a sensation like falling in love. In love with what? With the snakes [letters], and the Sanskrit and Persian words they preserved, records of distant migrations’ (p. 6). The pleasures of learning a new language are so intense that these learners can only compare this experience with other intense experiences such as love and eroticism. For the writers discussed in this article, the pleasures of the language are an inevitable accompaniment to the difficulties accompanying the learning process. Sounds, words, and expressions worth exploration are described to the reader, presumably living outside the region. Moving to a new region and immersing oneself in an unfamiliar culture and language is a means of creating new lives for themselves. Rich’s (2009) journey is parallel to the Lacanian metaphor for child identity formation through language acquisition: learning Hindi (and thereafter the study abroad programme) is a way to reinvent a life that may be ending due to cancer. The titles themselves summarize the loss and rediscovery of self, referencing ‘love’, ‘life’, ‘wakefulness’, and ‘journeys’, all indicating states of consciousness. Even Enslin (2014), in Nepal due to marriage, perceives her stay there as a ‘test of skill and endurance’ (p. 4). As stories of renewal and rediscovery, they are also part of the Orientalist agenda of the search for transformative experiences in exotic locations. This newness contributes to the joys of life in a new language. According to Rich (2009), all the data in the world [on FLL difficulties] can’t measure the irreproducible pleasures that come as well, for being left, for a time, speechless. Of being blasted into a world that, because it’s not yet named, is limitless (p. 37, emphases added). The inability to name, while inducing anxiety, is at the same time exciting in its promise of an undiscovered space. These are also representations of the joy of becoming and being multilingual in the ability to display identities in different languages and the flexibility of thought available to learners who exist in several languages at the same time. While many language learners have discussed the ‘loss’ inherent in a space where things are unnameable, Rich points to its possibilities as ‘limitless’. These writers show us the importance of exploring this link between pleasure and anxiety for language learning, the reason that presumably drives many learners to persist despite their frequent frustrations and loss of face. 4.3 ‘Being boyfriended’: Enculturation through language One of the fundamental functions of language for these writers is its link to culture, not too removed from ideologies underlying language socialization. As Barker (2010) says, language lessons are a means to learn ‘the stories that give … culture’ (p. 39). Describing her attraction to language study, Rich says ‘I love a lot of things about language study—the way it can make you feel like a spy, the covert glimpses it provides into worlds that were previously off-limits’ (2009: xix). Once again, and not accidently, we find a metaphor of secretive entry to a community (similar to Leaming’s ‘word pickpocket’). Words and phrases are dissected for pragmatic content, almost anthropological in their attention to nuance in terms of sociolinguistic markers. Rich (2009) analyses concepts missing in Hindi, such as ‘privacy’ (also considered in Zeppa 2011), and in English, ‘Leelaa: the acts of a deity performed for pleasure’ (p. 71). Kennedy (2011) discovers that having a ‘boyfriend’ does not give her any respectability in India: There is no word in Hindi for boyfriend, so the English word is dropped into Hindi sentences, and once there, it rings like a curse. Being boyfriended implies a depraved, decadent life: a girl with one boyfriend is sure to have many others (p. 20, emphasis in original). Her realization that the word has undergone a semantic shift in India spurs the replacement of it with ‘patee’ (husband) in her later conversations. In contrast, Leaming (2011) finds an amelioration of meaning, since being ‘fat’ is a compliment in Bhutan. One of the most illuminating episodes of enculturation through language is shown in this example by Rich (2009), surprised by the sight of a ‘Western woman on the street’: Her movements were bizarre. At first she looked like she was stomping. All around her, women in saris moved in a glide, in slow fluid lines, but the Western woman’s legs chopped the air. And what legs! Hard and knotted as a labourer’s, blatantly exposed by high shorts. Slap in the face to all decency, a singsong voice in my head pronounced, the new language having apparently tamped down all memories of the high shorts in my bureau back home. (p. 275, emphasis in original) Rich (2009) is suddenly made aware of the insidious socialization of her own self into ‘appropriate’ gendered behaviour as she stays in rural Udaipur. As her ‘Hindi careened’ (p. 208), she has acquired conservative values, othering herself through language. In travelling to these countries, these writers play another role that Orientalist travellers have been accused of enacting, the authority on the Orient to Western audiences (Clifford 2001; Yoshihara 2003). Indeed, in all of the texts discussed in this article, the desire to re-present the culture they visit or reside in is palpable. The most Orientalist account of all is Leaming’s (2011) narrative of Bhutan, where poverty is romanticized and interpreted as a desire for a simple lifestyle with a ‘healthy disregard’ for time and money (p. 5). McMillin (2002) writes of Tibet that it has become a location for enlightenment travel, and many of the travel narratives of Bhutan carry the same trope. Leaming’s description of Bhutan resembles a travel brochure: ‘…nestled deep in the Himalayas….[It] thrives with little outside influence. A modern day Shangri La’ (p. 5). These authors’ views on cultural differences are heightened by an essentialist view of the other culture. In Not Quite Paradise for instance, Barker (2010) compares life in her smaller town Kandy to her friend Jon’s life in the capital, Colombo. We sit on his balcony in Colombo 733 early in the morning before the heat rises, he with his coffee, me with my tea, and talk in our sarongs, pretending that we are much more Sri Lankan than we really are. We are curious about how the other lives. I tell Jon we love coming down the mountain to Colombo to see him, but sometimes I feel that I’m not in the culture when I come here. I feel like it’s sanitized, too Western, too something. I feel like I have to go up the mountain to be in the culture, to really be here. (p. 95, emphases added; italics in sarong in original) Barker’s Sri Lankan culture is essentialized to a degree that being in Sri Lanka is not adequately ‘authentic’, her idea of ‘real’ Sri Lanka being the mountainous region of Kandy, with its claims to rurality and its history as the island’s last kingdom. While in many ways, these language memoirs are instances of what Yoshihara (2003) calls the ‘Asia is better’ theme in American women’s writing, it would nevertheless be a mistake to dismiss them altogether in this sense. Zeppa’s (2011) view of Bhutan is as romanticized as Leaming’s at the beginning, but changes towards the end. Zeppa writes of the change in herself, her reflexivity helped to a large extent by students and friends. She narrates an account of a colleague’s charge that she wants to see Bhutan as a ‘quaint notion of an untouched magical little world’ (p. 219) which forces her to accept that she sees the poverty of Bhutan as ‘a scenic backdrop … [where she] will not be a farmer scraping a living out of difficult terrain’ (p. 220). Beyond the Sky and the Earth (2011) is unusual not only for its critical portrayal of Zeppa herself but also for its portrayal of the ethnolinguistic conflict taking place in Bhutan during her stay (coincidentally the same time frame as Leaming’s). Her account of the discrimination faced by Nepalese-speaking students in Bhutanese educational institutions is a useful ‘lay’ ethnographic account on language policy. Sideways on a Scooter (2011) interweaves the stories of the three women to whom Kennedy becomes close: her two friends, aspiring conventionally modern middle-class Geeta, feminist journalist Parvati, and her poor but upper-caste and illiterate maid Radha. Through the narration of her relationships with these women, she is able to provide us with a complex picture of Indian-ness which does not fully cohere with the stereotypes of India. Barker (2010) too shows an awareness of her re-Orientalizing efforts, confessing to the reader her friend Jon’s charge that she thinks ‘being in the culture means doing everything the hard way’ (p. 95). In a sense, though, it is their fascination with these differences in the resident communities (and the languages themselves) that provide these authors with the impetus to learn new languages. These writers believe that the languages they were learning mediated their entry to the host community’s culture. They build up remarkable networks of friendships with the local community, and especially strong connections with local women who mediate and support their entry and acculturation. The interactions with men depicted here, in contrast to studies of younger North American women in study abroad contexts (Twombly 1995), enrich and support their language learning process and knowledge of the culture and country. These networks of women and men are also major factors in the intense attachment that these writers display towards the host culture. Parallel to these attachments, however, is a consciousness that they are anomalies in the local community. Some of these writers feel that they are a ‘spectacle’ in these countries. Barker (2010: 291) describes herself as being a perennial tourist, stating that even if she took up ‘residence in a village’ and was ‘fluent in Sinhalese’ she could never become part of the world in which she is temporarily resident. We see here, as well as in Rich (2009) and Leaming (2011), a strong desire to identify with the Other, as Kramsch (2009) states, but also the realization that it is prohibited by many factors.44 From the perspective of multilinguals, their feeling of ownership (though not their fetishizing) of the target culture is understandable. Moving as adults to a place with a different language and acclimatizing to different cultural practices, they see these practices (and their own) through ‘new lenses’, a phenomenon noted by Besemeres (2010) as a function of cross-cultural memoirs. Leaming (2011) too expresses this when recounting her awareness that her British friend will find it strange that the annual migration of priests to warmer regions results in a change of local administration. These authors can imagine themselves in the eyes of the people they meet and are conscious of the impact of foreignness and citizenship in South Asia. In addition to the more nuanced representations of their host or resident cultures, they also suggest the conflict between these identities, that of the new enculturation and the prior identity they bring into the new cultural milieu. The multilingual linguistic landscape of South Asia also creates change. In Udaipur, Rich (2009) finds the array of languages in her daily life fascinating, but also sometimes exhausting, as we will see below. Living amidst a number of languages, Rich and Barker are both inspired to learn more languages. Barker (2010) starts French lessons a month into her stay in Sri Lanka, describing the Alliance Française ‘as the social hub for foreigners and for those preparing to leave for assignments abroad’ where they conjugated verbs and played ‘word games in French’ (p. 115). Interestingly, no mention is made of any difficulty in learning two typologically different languages concurrently. During her stay in Udaipur, Rich (2009) acquires some Mewari, and begins learning Rajasthani Sign Language (as well as American Sign Language) to aid her voluntary work in a school for deaf children. Continuous multilingual use is not effortless however, as she realizes one evening: ‘the day has now gone into its fourth language—English, Hindi, Rajasthani sign, American sign—and a landslide is threatening in my brain’ (Rich 2009: 130). Zeppa (2011) too learns Dzongkha as well as the regional language Sharchhop. Their delight in being in a multilingual space is apparent in the attention these writers draw to the use of multiple languages in their surroundings as well as their own use of several languages. Rich in particular writes of her despair on having to return to the USA, saying ‘…and how am I going to give this up? I don’t care if I’m stiff in this language. It’s ozone to the brain, the rarest delight’ to be talking in Hindi (p. 314). Individual and societal multilingualism adds an unexpected and intriguing dimension to these narratives, especially given the emergent state of multilingual narrative in research (Pavlenko 2008). 4.4 ‘But always before, books were such a comfort’: Becoming literate in a new script Literacy is not a major focus in language memoirs (and memoir studies) from North America and Europe, presumably because of the writers’ prior familiarity with the Roman alphabet. Learning an orthography that is typologically different (in this case alphasyllabaries55) means adhering to different systems of sound representation, an experience that is fundamentally different to the writers’ first experience of literacy in the Roman alphabet. Whatever the difficulties, social literacy is inevitable when living in a modern-day community, as shown by Zeppa (2011), painstakingly parsing Dzongkha to read local news, or Barker (2010) peering at destination displays of buses in Sinhala. Rich (2009) and Leaming (2011) especially spotlight the ideologies related to literacy of their own and the host communities, giving us an insider’s perspective of becoming literate as adults. ‘The beautiful letters’ of the Devanagari script used to write Hindi are ‘like stick trees that had bumped into a ceiling or revue of performing snakes’ (Rich 2009: 11). Initially a source of exotic pleasure, the script becomes a source of great anxiety later: That profound, stubbing freeze that written Hindi brought on—puzzling betrayal, briefly, each time. But always before, books were such comfort—continued so long, troubled me so, that after my return to the States, I investigated. (Rich 2009: 153, emphasis in original) As a professional writer, Rich finds this long-lasting anxiety over reading ‘puzzling’, because it also results in a loss of something previously a ‘comfort’. But this loss is in turn what leads to a renewed discovery, of life in another language this time. Zeppa (2011) and Leaming (2011) also write about their difficulties in learning to read the Tibetan script used for Dzongkha. I quote Leaming (2011) at length to better illustrate the experience of the adult multilingual writer. When asked to memorize 30 letters by her lopen (teacher), Leaming’s initial reaction is ‘Easy enough. I can probably polish off 30 letters in a couple of days’ (p. 59). The denouement is described thus: Then Lopen gave me some really bad news. He told me I had to learn over 100 different attachments that go on the letters of the alphabet to change their sound. He called them consonants.66 This may not sound like a lot, but consider the possible permutations of 100 little attachments on 30 letters. I am not now nor was I then a mathematician; but I knew I was headed down not only a difficult, bumpy road, but also a very long one. This would be taxing. This would be painful. (p. 59) The anticipation of ease described by these writers, which can be misread as naiveté, is insightful. Literate adults do not usually retain memories of the laborious learning process associated with reading acquisition during childhood, coming into contact with it again only as language learners reading a different script. The writers considered in this article must move from an alphabet, which makes phonemic distinctions, to an alphasyllabary where the ‘letter’ denotes syllables. The initial assumption of the ease of reading and the excitement over a different orthography is predictable given that the hardships accompanying typical childhood reading acquisition is usually forgotten by adulthood. The ensuing struggle with different ways of mapping sound to written symbol is what should be followed carefully as further study, since beginning adult typical readers are able to provide us with self-examination of their own reading acquisition that children cannot provide. Examinations of daily practices of literacy in unfamiliar spaces reveal ideologies of literacy. Literature and religious writings in the classical languages of Sanskrit, Urdu, or Pali are given exalted status in the Indian subcontinent. In an example of the priority given to classicism versus communication, the syllabus in Rich’s (2009) Hindi programme includes (presumably the Hindi version of) the Panchatantra, a classical Sanskrit text written nearly 2,000 years ago. Barker (2010) too is encouraged to read the historical chronicle Mahawamsa by a colleague. Even though she does not write at length about learning to read, the primacy of literacy in Barker’s context is obvious, as she learns to read Sinhala, once again an alphasyllabary, to be able to manage daily life. Rich (2009) and Leaming (2011) are both required to learn ‘how to write’ at the initial stages of their language lessons. This insistence on writing first by their teachers exposes a dominant ideology in relation to literacy in their communities: learning to read the language makes the learning of it more authentic, even in instances when literacy is not necessary or makes learning more difficult. Comparison between the lessons for students in the art school and her own experience brings Leaming (2011) to the conclusion that in Bhutan, the ideology of literacy entails memorization prior to understanding, a phenomenon observed by Zeppa (2011) as well. Of interesting contrast is Enslin’s (2014) record of the progress of the Freirian critical literacy project which she and the women in her husband’s family undertake in their Nepalese village. Here, the niece (initially dressed in her school uniform, probably to respect the formality of the situation) teaches village women the Devanagari script by using ‘words they themselves had thought of’ (p. 140), words that represented their lives. Enslin’s own experience of learning to read and write is missing in the narrative, but her story of the literacy project is a useful counterpoint to the formal learning that Rich (2009) and Leaming (2011) underwent, which probably follows the traditional style of teaching language in South Asia. These narratives include ideologies of literacy and descriptions of cultural practices of learning, of which little scholarly knowledge is available. Literacy and reading studies in South Asia are still sporadic, and generally focus on reading acquisition (see Nag and Perfetti 2014; also Karanth 2002) rather than sociocultural aspects of literacy, with the exception of some studies on literacy for development (Parajuli 1990). I argue that language memoirs by writers learning non-alphabetic scripts contribute greatly to our understanding of the phenomena involved due to the large gap in our understanding of reading in alphasyllabaries and the crossing between alphasyllabaries and alphabets by adult readers; the absence of ethnographic studies on literacy in the region; and the complicating factor of widespread multilingualism and attendant multiple orthographies in the South Asian region. 5. CONCLUSIONS The aim of this article was to investigate language memoirs of FLL experiences in linguistic communities which were previously unexamined. These autobiographical narratives, by North American women resident and learning languages in South Asia, echo some of the experiences of fellow learners in the Western world. However, they also provide us with insight into unique issues, necessary for a fuller discussion of not only FLL, but also of language learning in general. Similar to language memoirs from the West, these memoirs too show that committed language learning is a journey or process with myriad steps, both traumatic and thrilling. In general, applied linguistics has been concerned with formal learning settings and pedagogical characteristics. Currently, however, interest has extended to diverse settings, and an interest in social and cultural issues related to FLL, a reflection of the changing global situation where we grapple with issues such as large-scale migration or globalization. As the landscape of FLL changes, so have the methodologies studying language learning (King and Mackey 2016). Most importantly, using autobiographical material such as memoirs illustrates the complexities of life outside the classroom for language learners in a way that research methods such as interviews or surveys cannot. As narratives of language learners resident in target language communities, they provide evidence of the labour of language learning, necessary even when immersed in the language. The learner’s willingness to undergo shame, frustration, or sadness makes clear the enormous emotional investment they make, and enhances the role that desire or pleasure plays in learning a new language. This frisson between the two types of affect, I argue, is the reason successful students persevere in the laboured process of learning. In addition to that, these memoirs are also vivid testaments to the excitement of being multilingual. The exotic nature of the language and culture they immerse themselves in is integral to the pleasure language learners gain in their learning experience. In this relation, these texts intersect with the travel writing genre. As Clifford (2001: 129) expresses it, ‘travel writers inevitably respond to a public need: they must turn the strange, the wonderful, the outlandish, the threatening, into an idiom that makes sense not just to themselves but to their audiences back home’. The unusual context of their learning makes for a re-Orientalization of South Asia, as a place where elephants still walk in city streets, where women glide rather than walk, and seasonal migrations of city officials means the hibernation of state administration. At the same time, the reader is allowed a view of the complexity of life in these countries, replete with multiple linguistic, ethnic, and religious backgrounds. The language memoirs studied here include a mix, with some authors being reflexive about their own Orientalist perceptions that are not apparent in colonial or contemporary parallels. These are memoirs of adult learners learning languages completely unfamiliar and linguistically distant to their own. They do so by negotiating not only multilingual spaces, but spaces fraught with complex socio-political issues, such as the impact of September 11 attacks on the Twin Towers in the USA or regional and local conflicts in South Asia. They examine the politics of daily life, and reflect on the impact of all these issues on their own language learning and socialization. From a pedagogical perspective, it provides impetus for politically engaged curricula, an issue of which most curriculum developers are wary. From a linguistic perspective, they provide useful accounts of reading acquisition and literacy ideologies. These are important areas worth more detailed study than the preliminary attempts made in this article. Acknowledgements I would like to thank Dr Celeste Kinginger for her encouraging and instructive suggestions on an initial version of this article. 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Applied Linguistics – Oxford University Press
Published: Feb 1, 2019
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