Milena (Austria)

I had the pleasure of meeting Milena from Austria at one of the “Connecting Through Cultures” meetings held weekly at Montclair State University. They have both international and American students talking about all sorts of issues that might come up as far as international interactions are concerned in a highly informal environment. Everyone is encouraged to open up about their own experiences locally and internationally and how they have transformed them. It is fascinating to be exposed to a whole range of perspectives as every week some new issue is brought up and new people come along as well and that provides a great platform to pick up from the conversations from weeks before. That was during my second time at the meeting that I got to talk to Milena who has been there for about just as long as myself (over a month). She is still a student in her home country of Austria and she is here at Montclair State University for a semester to study Molecular Biology. Despite coming across as shy, Milena didn’t seem to have any trouble adjusting to an English-speaking environment. After a lengthy conversation about pretty much everything and finding we could actually relate to each other’s feelings associated with being here, we talked about her experience with English. Milena has been the first European I have interviewed and I found it interesting to be able to learn her perspective as I expected it might be different as we know the European Union makes it easier to get around within it and thus interact with people from other countries that are not usually hard to reach. Milena started learning English at elementary school and according to her, there was a good balance between grammar and communication in her English instruction. She seemed to struggle more at what is called the suprasegmental language level (i.e. pronunciation, tone). For someone having German with its famously elaborate grammar as their native language, the Austrian girl found the English grammar not incredibly difficult to work her way through. One of the things that appear to be common in Europe is that younger people like Milena are used to having other younger people pretty much everywhere in the European space they share being able to speak decent English. I assumed that with borders not being a big issue, travelling to Great Britain with her class back at school for a week wasn’t anything too extraordinary for Milena. Another factor that is not so much geographically-bound is the Internet that according to Milena’s perception, causes English to become a sort of “our second language”. Therefore she doesn’t really “mind speaking English”. I couldn’t help asking her about how Austria goes about finding its own linguistic voice having the larger Germany close by and sharing the common language with them. It might be difficult to stand out and not be blurred into a kind of the German-speaking environment and the German language doesn’t seem to make it easy for Austria not to be overlooked on a larger scale. As much as language might stand in their way of gaining the unique national identity, it still has a way of helping people to put their own individual voices into it and thus language varieties emerge. Milena sometimes finds that Germans might not understand some of the structures and vocabulary used in the neighboring Austria. Milena expects to continue using English after her stay here in the USA especially if she pursues a career in Molecular Biology research. She has learnt the language of another neighboring country (isn’t that cool to have so many neighbors like that?) – Slovenia. Milena says one essential thing to inspire her to continue learning it is missing, which is motivation, but she hopes to carry through with that. Here at Montclair State University, she is taking Chinese as she argues it might be on the way of becoming another big language in the world. Good luck to this lovely hard-working girl with whatever she will see herself doing a bit later in life!