I did my undergrad degree in two European languages that are not English: Italian and German. I studies them at a New Zealand university. One did cultural papers in the languages and the other, more racy, exciting part was language acquisition. However, I had never heard of acquiring anything up until this point in my life.
I find the term acquisition quite odd, as the verb acquire has two well-known meanings, courtesy of Google: 1) to buy or obtain (an asset or object) for oneself and 2) to learn or develop (a skill, habit or quality). Although language acquisition would sit well in the latter definition, at times during university, I felt it was more accurate in the former definition. This idea that a language had to be conquered, one had to be absolutist in their fluency of the gagana, is one I have wrestled with all my life.
In the last two days, I have met young Pasifika children as young as 9, who do not speak their ancestral language. When I ask them why, their answer is that their parents speak to them, they understand but are not themselves confident enough to respond. They do not even try, because of their own shame, embarrassment and ridicule. I affirm that I too, hated Samoan (language and identity) growing up but slowly persisted and then dropped the idea that I had to be fluent, to acquire the same tongue that my parents and their peers had.
That to dovetail between two or more languages was my life’s language. Between speaking formal English and Island slang, broken conversations and fluent eavesdropping. That to situate myself in these silly answers to “Are you fluent in…?” and responding with an ambivalence was adequate and radically more inventive than being absolutely and resolutely fluid in my gagana/language and aganu’u/culture. We can laugh and be light with ourselves in these journeys of cultural flux.