A Narrowly Defined Learner's Experiences with Eastern Armenian

An interview with Anahit Pogossian from the University of California, Los Angeles.

Anahit Pogossian, a doctoral student with the Graduate School of Education and Information Studies, joins Shushan Karapetian to discuss her experiences with Eastern Armenian as a narrowly defined heritage language learner. 



Karapetian, Shushan. (Producer). (2019, August 14). A narrowly defined learner's experiences with Eastern Armenian [Audio podcast]. Retrieved from https://nhlrc.ucla.edu/nhlrc/article/206232

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[Shushan] Hello everyone, this is Shushan Karapetian from the National Heritage Language Resource Center at UCLA. Welcome to our new podcast series entirely dedicated to heritage language research, education, pedagogy, and lived experience. My guest today is Anahit Pogossian, a doctoral student in the Graduate School of Education and Information Studies at UCLA in the Human Development and Psychology division. She is a narrowly defined heritage language speaker and learner of Eastern Armenian and we're very happy to have her here with us to discuss her journey as a heritage language speaker and learner. Welcome Anahit.

[Anahit] Thank you, Dr. Shushan Karapetian. I'm very happy to be here today.

[Shushan] Wonderful. So, let's start really from the beginning, from your earliest memories with Armenian and, actually, with any languages. Where were you born? What type of linguistic environment were you born into and then talk us through what you remember.

[Anahit] Right. So, I fit exactly into the narrowly defined definition of a heritage language speaker. I was born in Hollywood actually [laughing] and then moved to Glendale soon after. And I was born to immigrant parents who had come from Armenian when my mom was 17 and my father was 20.

[Shushan] So, they moved in the 80s... 70s?

[Anahit] My dad came in the later 70s and my mom came in the late 80s.

[Shushan] And they both came from the Republic of Armenia?

[Anahit] Yes.

[Shushan] So, in their late teens?

[Anahit] Yes.

[Shushan] Okay.

[Anahit] Yes, that is correct. And so my linguistic environment was solely Armenian for the first five years of my life. Them being dominant Armenian speakers, speaking to me, my sister, all extended family... conversations were only in Armenian and I attended an Armenian prep... private preschool.

[Shushan] Was it just your parents and your sibling? Did you have grandparents who lived with you, by any chance?

[Anahit] Not in the house, but 10 minutes away in Glendale as well.

[Shushan] Okay.

[Anahit] So, actually, for the first month of my life I was living with my grandma and grandpa who were living with my aunt and uncle [laughing] because being my mom's first born...

[Shushan] Right.

[Anahit] ... she was a little worried and scared so, for a month.

[Shushan] So... [pause] And everyone was speaking Eastern Armenian, correct?

[Anahit] Correct.

[Shushan] For our listeners out there, Armenian is a pluricentric language with two Modern Standards; we have Modern Eastern Armenian - which is spoken in the Republic of Armenia and by Armenians in Iran and other diasporic communities - and then Modern Western Armenian - which is a diasporic language. So, to clarify: Anahit is a heritage speaker and learner of Eastern Armenian. Okay. So, you were born into an immigrant family where Eastern Armenian was the dominant language, but you mentioned that your parents came here as teenagers. So, by the time they became parents, I assume they had some proficiency - if not, fluency - in English, correct?

[Anahit] They did.

[Shushan] They did, okay.

[Anahit] My dad more than my mom because he had been here for longer but my mom... [pause] So, my mom graduated school in Armenia and then came here. And the way it works is she was going to start 11th grade here and they told here the only way she would graduate is if she took extra night classes. And so, night classes and the, I think, Saturdays as well. She was taking English and history. And so, through that her English opened up...

[Shushan] Got it.

[Anahit] Yeah.

[Shushan] Okay. So, you said you attended a private Armenian preschool. Was everything in Armenian, as you remember it? Or do you remember?

[Anahit] Everything was...

[Shushan] Everything was in Armenian.

[Anahit] Even nap time. [laughing]

[Shushan] Even nap time was in Armenian! Got it. [laughing] Okay.

[Anahit] So, that was great. It was Tufenkian (Armenian pre-school). And then the continuation was going to be Chamlian, to which my parents sat down and decided that maybe not... maybe they wanted to put me in public school. So, I started first grade in public school.

[Shushan] Do you know what their thought process was for not continuing? Was it a financial issue? Was it a... [pause] Chamlian is an Armenian private school. So, there are... there's a chain of Armenian private community day schools. So, these are not weekend schools. These are full on private schools..., day schools, that have a kind of focus on Armenian heritage, culture, history and language as well.

[Anahit] I think finances were a factor into it but it was also because from what I know, Chamlian is in La Crescenta and we are close but Verdugo Woodlands - the elementary school I went to - was closer.

[Shushan] To home... [pause] So, proximity, convenience...

[Anahit] Right.

[Shushan] Okay. So, you walk into your first day of public school...

[Anahit] Right. I walk in and, of course, my mom drops me off and then first grade teacher takes us all in, closes the door, and there's a little window in the door, right? So, my mom, of course, is watching - and along with a couple other moms - and my teacher, Ms. Crayon goes, "Okay, everybody. Find your name on your name tag... on your desk, and all the kids start running around the classroom and I'm just standing there still because I don't understand a single word of what she's saying. And my mom, the way she then tells the story to me, is she went home and cried that day. [laughing]

[Shushan] Aw.

[Anahit] And she' s like, "My daughter doesn't know English." And from then, she ordered those, you know, kid friendly encyclopedia books, "Hooked on Phonics," [laughing] that stuff! And from then on, it was switched to more English in the house. And I asked her... I'm like, "Mom, how could I not have known English growing up in America... and T.V., and cousins and, you know, friends?" And she's like, "You knew a little bit, you knew a couple words. Like at Tufenkian they would teach us the colors or animals, but not enough to understand sentences in English, I think.

[Shushan] Or maybe it was the shock of the new environment because you had always been in a monolingual Armenian-dominant environment or in a bilingual environment but never, maybe, in a monolingual English environment. So, to now all of a sudden be in a new school with new friends and new teachers... perhaps it wasn't so much a proficiency thing but it was a combination of the stress of a new environment...

[Anahit] Yeah.

[Shushan] ... a new institutional setting.

[Anahit] That's true.

[Shushan] Okay. And then... [pause] So, you started public school, you had that kind of anxiety or maybe... [pause] I'm pretty sure your mother must have had a harder time than you...

[Anahit] I think so.

[Shushan] Right? Yeah.

[Anahit] Because I can't remember an experience where I did feel anxious about not being able to convey my message in school. So, everything I remember - like the story I just told you - is from what my mom has told me.

[Shushan] Ah!

[Anahit] So, it's not my first-hand experiences.

[Shushan] Right, right. Okay. So, you went through elementary school and then... which was entirely in English.

[Anahit] Entirely in English.

[Shushan] And did the dynamics change at home or was it English at school and Armenian at home?

[Anahit] They tried.

[Shushan] Tried to...

[Anahit] ... tried to have Armenian in the household as much as possible. I do remember having the Mariam Davidian classes after school in elementary school, but it was more later elementary. I think it was after third grade.

[Shushan] So, Mariam Davidian - for our listeners - is a traveling after-school Armenian program that goes to various public elementary schools and offers Armenian language instruction twice a week for a couple of hours...

[Anahit] Yeah.

[Shushan] ... correct?

[Anahit] Correct.

[Shushan] Okay.

[Anahit] So, those I remember. I don't remember not liking it, because I remember I went back and I asked my mom, "What happened to those classes?" I remember attending it. And she goes, "You would come home and say you don't like your teachers so I took you out." And I'm like, "Okay." And then I remember this day very vividly... [pause] I was in middle school and at that point, English had just dominated my linguistic proficiency. And my dad comes home from work and we're all in the kitchen, and my dad's standing up in the middle of the kitchen getting food from the fridge and he asks us... [pause] Everyday he would ask us, "How did you day go" in Armenian. And, of course, my receptive skills are still great and I'm like, "Oh, dad we did this and this... and P.E. was this... and we learned this in class," and I'm going on and on and on for ten minutes. I'm explaining to my dad how my day went. And he goes, "Okay, great. But I didn't understand a single word of what you said. Now, can you say it to me in Armenian." And me, getting so frustrated... just angry, like, "Dad, you do understand! Why are you saying that?" And just getting up and leaving because that's how difficult it was for me to convey how my day went in Armenian.

[Shushan] But do you think your dad didn't understand or he was making a point?

[Anahit] He was making...

[Shushan] He was trying to encourage you to switch to Armenian.

[Anahit] He was making a point. I knew very well that he understood English.

[Shushan] It's interesting, right, these intergenerational clashes...

[Anahit] Yeah.

[Shushan] ... and frustrations. In some cases, the parent genuinely doesn't understand.

[Anahit] Yeah.

[Shushan] In some cases, this is done with he hopes that it will inspire a switch to the heritage language. But from the heritage language speaker's side, when you know your parent clearly understands it can be very frustrating and almost... I don't know... almost like a sense of betrayal...

[Anahit] Right.

[Shushan] Right?

[Anahit] Right.

[Shushan] Okay. So, junior high school and high school was also in a public school setting with no formal Armenian instruction?

[Anahit] No formal Armenian instruction in high school. So, the summer in between middle school and high school, we went to Armenia for the first time in 2008 with my dance group. And I was attending Saturday school up until a year before that point and it was... [pause]. Every Friday night there was a fight in the household. My mom would be like, "Sit down and do your Armenian homework." I'd be like, "No, I don't want to! All my other friends come home on the weekends and they get to watch movies and do fun things...

[Shushan] Right.

[Anahit] ... and I have to sit here and do Armenian homework." And I remember "Hope and Faith" - I don't know if you're familiar with that T.V. show. That was very popular and my mom was into it, and me and my sister would just be like, "We just want to watch "Hope and Faith" with you."

[Shushan] Aw. So how long did you attend Saturday school?

[Anahit] So, it was, I think, middle of elementary school up until seventh grade. And it wasn't a formal Saturday school like Narek (Armenian Saturday School) and those institutions. We started off doing private lessons at someone's house and then that women ended up moving to Armenia. And so, she had a friend who then took over. So, it was just private instructions, Saturdays, for two to three hours... whatever she saw fit. And what was nice about that was that it was small classes. So, it was me and my friends in the class. So, we kind of got individualized plans but at the same time - because it was me and my friends in the class - we also goofed off and didn't really take it seriously. So... and it was like me, my sister who's three years younger than me... and it was my friend and her brother, who was two years younger than her. So, it was just a range of ages. But fluency... I would want to say we were almost about the same. I knew the younger ones were better than us because maybe they were put into the [i+1] environment.

[Shushan] I see.

[Anahit] But yeah.

[Shushan] And the dance troop you were a part of...

[Anahit] Right.

[Shushan] ... was that an Armenian group? And what was the language of instruction or socialization?

[Anahit] Instruction was Armenian. Socialization was in English.

[Shushan] So, the instructor... instructors... taught and communicated in Armenian...

[Anahit] And Russian. Occasional Russian.

[Shushan] Ah! Interesting.

[Anahit] Yeah.

[Shushan] Right. So, obviously Russian has been a huge presence in the Republic of Armenia given our Soviet legacy. But socializing and communication among peers was in English. Again, this is a very common dynamic.

[Anahit] Which leads back to when we went to Armenia in 2008. We went with our dance group and my mom's best friend, who she grew up with from primary school in Armenia, came to watch our concert at the Opera. And after the concert she was telling my mom, like, "Oh, I was so happy, you know, to know a group in the diaspora is dancing these Armenian ethnic dances," and so on. But then I turn around after the concert and I hear all the kids are speaking to one another in English and my heart was just crushed. And my mom tells me that years later and I'm like, I didn't even realize that. And so '08... 2008 was the first time where I was like, "Oopsie Anahit, you made a mistake by not learning Armenian." Because we would be in the bus and we would be driving around, and I would see these signs. And I knew the letters. I would be able to make out mostly what it said but it was those sister letter that would always confuse me. And so, after we got back I started high school and I'm like, "Okay. I'm going to study Armenian. I'm going to learn Armenian. I'm going to study at home." And at the start of high school I was already like, "Okay, what college do I want to go to? What do I want to study?" And, of course, there's an IGETC system to meet all the requirements. There's a foreign language requirement and, of course, I end up taking Spanish as my foreign language requirement because there's a huge population in LA, and it can be useful, et cetera. And so, I never took an Armenian class at high school.

[Shushan] But was Armenian an option at your high school?

[Anahit] It was.

[Shushan] Oh, it was?

[Anahit] It was an option.

[Shushan] Ah. Interesting.

[Anahit] Yeah, yeah.

[Shushan] Okay. And then you graduate and you end up where?

[Anahit] At community college.

[Shushan] Okay. And did you have any experience with Armenian at the community college?

[Anahit] I did. So, I had taken four years of Spanish and I did not pass my AP exam because Junior... Senior year kind of just became fun and no one want to study anything anymore. And so, when I got to college I had a hard time my first two semesters... especially with Calculus. And so, I was like, "I need a foreign language requirement. Spanish didn't pass because I didn't pass the AP exam." And I'll be brutally honest, I did end up taking Armenian because I thought it would be an easy "A" and it would boast my GPA. I had gotten accepted into UC Irvine straight from high school, and so my mindset for the first two... three years of community college was: I need to get into a college better than Irvine. If I had let this opportunity pass, I would never forgive myself. And so, I end up taking Armenian... the first Elementary Armenian there and I actually end up missing a week of that class because I was in Armenia again. So, this is 2013 already. So, I had emailed the professor and I told her, "Is it okay? I'll be in Armenian so I'm not too far off from the Armenian," you know, "linguistic environment." And she was like, "Okay." But it was a summer school class so everything was, like, faster. And so, I get there and I learn, again, re- learn the letters but this time I think the sister letters stuck with me. And vocabulary that I was like, "Oh, wait I know this word. I used this word before" and, "Oh, yeah I know what that is! I haven't heard that word for the past 15 years, maybe, but that's great." And so, I continue with that series and finished the series...

[Shushan] Was this a course designed for heritage speakers? Or was it an elementary, beginning Armenian class for foreign language learners?

[Anahit] That's a very good question. Looking back, it was a class designed for heritage speakers. I think if you were a foreign language learner, it would be difficult, but there were a few foreign language leaners and they would always accommodate for them. But a majority of the class was heritage speakers like myself... a lot of my friends from high school... [laughing]

[Shushan] Wow!

[Anahit] ... were in that class.

[Shushan] Okay. So, you finished this series.

[Anahit] Right. I finished the series, transferred, and then I got accepted to UCLA with Linguistics and Psychology as my...

[Shushan] As an undergraduate student.

[Anahit] As an undergraduate student. So, I get to UCLA and a requirement for linguistics is two foreign languages. So, in one of the foreign languages you need advanced proficiency and in the second, you need elementary. So, it's like two years of one language and then one year of another language. And I was like, "Okay, this is perfect. I've taken four years of Spanish in high school. I'll just do something... get something waived and pass that requirement." And I was a transfer student too. So, trying to fit all of the courses in two years was a little bit difficult. So, I was trying to strategize. And so, I was like, "Okay. For my advanced language I will take the Armenian placement exam." And so, I come in here and it's my first quarter, and it's October and I walk into the Armenian placement exam. And I had practice for like a week before that. I was like, "Let me pull out my old notebooks and look at it again." And I walk into the exam and I fail utterly, to the point where I don't even have a score. I went to the office in the department and I was like, "Hey, I took my placement exam like a month ago. I got an email saying I did not pass but it didn't say what level." Because how it works is there's a level, right? So, I figured, "Okay, if I didn't do so well maybe I can skip, like, the first two quarters and then start in the third quarter and that'll still save me some time." And she looks... she opens up the program in the computer and goes, "You don't have a score." So, I guess I did so poorly that I don't have even have a score. And that was just devastating.

[Shushan] Did the exam test all four skills? Reading, writing, speaking, listening... do you remember?

[Anahit] Speaking, yes, and I think listening might have been part of that component as well. Because the questions I was asked were so difficult - I didn't even understand the questions. So, I didn't even know what responses to give.

[Shushan] Wow.

[Anahit] And then writing was there and reading as well. So, read a passage... summarize it, or read a passage... answer these questions and then write a passage of your own. Yeah, it was not fun.

[Shushan] What did that do, that experience, to your linguistic self-esteem?

[Anahit] Well, let me tell you. That quarter, I was in an anthropology class on Language, Endangerment, and Linguistic Revitalization. So, I'm sitting there and I'm learning about all these languages that have been endangered... that have gone extinct. And I took that test on Saturday, I sat in class on Monday , and I was like, "Wait a second. I'm contributing to the loss of my own language."

[Shushan] Wow.

[Anahit] And so, that... [pause] For an entire week, I was just... I don't know, for a lack of better words, messed up almost. I was like, "How is this possible? How... "I'm sitting here and learning about it while I'm contributing to this."

[Shushan] But why... why was the blame self-directed? How were you contributing to it? By not taking agency? By not acting on this desire? What was your thought process?

[Anahit] My thought process was, "I should have paid more attention in class. I should have taken my homework more seriously. I should have done it myself instead of asking my mom for help or copying from friends."

[Shushan] Right.

[Anahit] Or taking it lightly as the easy GPA booster class.

[Shushan] Right. So, as a college student... as an adult, now that you have this awareness... [pause] But it's interesting, right? That your adult-self judges your childhood or adolescent self with your adult standards.

[Anahit] Right, right.

[Shushan] Right? Looking back, it's so easy to say, "I should have."

[Anahit] Right.

[Shushan] But you're a child, right? But it's interesting because this is very common...

[Anahit] Right.

[Shushan] ... this kind of self-directed blame...

[Anahit] Right.

[Shushan] ... of, "I'm complicit in the endangerment or in the loss of my own language." Instead of... [pause] And, of course, by no means am I saying that parents are to blame, that the communities are to blame...

[Anahit] Right.

[Shushan] ... but it's always looking inward instead of looking at the biggest picture, right?

[Anahit] Right.

[Shushan] Okay. So, you failed this placement exam. You are kind of filled with this new awareness and this new sense of guilt or shame or... [pause] And what do you do?

[Anahit] I enroll in Elementary Eastern Armenian the next quarter. So, winter quarter I was like, "Okay. I now have fulfill the language requirement." And I'm not going to lie, I was pretty mad. I was upset not only at myself but at the fact that I had failed. So, there was a little bit of that as well. So , I walk into the class and I'm kind of angry and I'm kind of like, "Alright. Just learn it once and for all," [laughing] you know, "Just take it seriously and do it." And within a week I fell in love with the language, as weird that sounds. It's almost like... [pause] I sat there after a week and I was like, "This is what I've been missing out on my entire life."

[Shushan] Wow.

[Anahit] And... [pause] So, everything kind of came back to me. All the language lessons, the Saturday schools, the vocabulary at home - it all kind of came back to me. And my professor had noticed that I had a bit of advanced proficiency than some of the other students in the class. So, she was giving me more assignments. Or, if she gave a class a reading assignment, she would then ask me and a couple other students to write something about it too. And so, this time I actually took it seriously and I went through piece by piece and I was reading everything and, you know, analyzing these poems in Armenian. There were a few times where I did say things incorrectly in the classroom and I got reprimanded for it in a way in which I later learned in some of my linguistic classes about error correction and I'm like, "Oh. Okay. That was interesting." [laughing] But that didn't stop me from continuing to take the course. And so, after the end of that quarter I knew I could take the intermediate series but Dr. Karapetian was the professor [laughing] of the "C" of Elementary Eastern Armenian and by that point, I had heard about her work... about heritage language speaker anxiety, and shame, and guilt. And I had heard this from peers who had taken her class that winter quarter that I was...

[Shushan] It's strange to be spoken about in third person! [laughing]

[Anahit] ... in that language class. [laughing]

[Shushan] You're sitting right across from me. [laughing]

[Anahit] But I want to touch upon it because it was been such a huge influencer in the pathway that I have taken that it's hard to not talk about it.

[Shushan] Yeah.

[Anahit] So, I ended up downloading her dissertation over spring break and reading it, and enrolling her class just to meet her [laughing] because I was like, "I have to meet her. I know I'm not... [pause] I can pass with intermediate proficiency but it's okay, I'll just," you know, "one more quarter." And then...

[Shushan] Aw.

[Anahit] So, that was the start...

[Shushan] So, you had read my dissertation before you took my class.

[Anahit] Yeah.

[Shushan] Right. So, just for our listeners: My dissertation is called, "How Do I Teach My Broken Language to My Kids." It's a study of Eastern Armenian heritage language speakers and learners, and it covers several aspects, right. So, there's a chapter on the linguistic aspect. There's a chapter on heritage language anxiety. There's a chapter on language use patterns... a chapter on language ideology. And it was done on a group of heritage language learners at UCLA. So, these were your peers that you were reading about. I'm not surprised that there was kind of a deep sense of resonance.

[Anahit] Right.

[Shushan] Right? Okay. So, you took 104C - so, the third series in Beginner Eastern Armenian with me. And then you continued to the intermediate series, correct?

[Anahit] I... not... [pause] So, I did continue but not into the intermediate series. So, at this point I was starting my senior year at UCLA. I had declared Armenian Studies as my minor and there were Society and Culture classes, which were about history... culture and society, but they were taught in Armenian. I ended up enrolling in those courses. And that was hard.

[Shushan] So, you skipped the intermediate level and went to... what... [pause] Traditionally we would call those classes the Advanced Eastern Armenian...

[Anahit] Right.

[Shushan] ... series. I think a few years ago, they were called Advanced Eastern Armenian. Now, they're called Armenian Society and Culture. So, it's almost now like a content class that's entirely taught in Eastern Armenian.

[Anahit] Right. And that was a deliberate move. I was thinking, "I have one year left here. I want to learn about content. I want to learn about history, and society, and culture rather than get language instruction, which is not what the intermediate courses... [pause] Of course, there's history and language and those components in it as well but I was just very, very motivated to do these advanced courses. And it was hard, I'm not going to lie. I was maybe one of three other heritage speakers in a room full of 20 native speakers.

[Shushan] Wow.

[Anahit] Yeah. And those other heritage speakers - my classmates - had attended private Armenian school. And I noticed that that that's when I noticed, "Alight, Anahit. You're proficiency is not as great as you think it is."

[Shushan] So, it's interesting that it seems like there's been a pattern of you constantly evaluating and reevaluating your proficiency throughout your life cycle. It wasn't one time, it wasn't two times that you've gone through these phases of... [pause] Like, even as you narrate, you had these moments of reckoning with yourself. "Alright, Anahit."

[Anahit] Which I have now as well, because after I graduated from UCLA I took a gap year to work and do grad applications, and I had... [pause] I was working for a company in Glendale. So, I had a lot of Armenian coworkers.

[Shushan] Which hosts the largest Armenian population outside of the Republic of Armenia, by the way. [laughing]

[Anahit] And during my gap year, I was spending a lot time at home because I had moved back home. So, I was watching those Armenian soap operas with my mom, spending more time with my family, and I had these Armenian coworkers that we would hang out with, you know, during the day; we would get lunch together and that was strictly Armenian-only environment because they were native speakers, and I noticed my proficiency, you know, rise form being surrounded with them. And then I come back to grad school and I move out here again, onto the westside. I'm here five days out of the week. I don't get to spend that much time with my family, all my peers are now English speaking because we're in an English-only environment. And now, I've noticed my proficiency has decrease again. And so, there's just this... such a fascinating but also heartbreaking, you know, inner dialogue where you notice where your peaking and where your, you know, losing some ability again. And I had noticed this right after I had graduated UCLA as well because I had finished taking the Society and Culture courses and a few months out I was like, "Wait, I've heard this word before. What does it mean?" And I'm like, "I've heard this word before in class." And being able to be in that environment, in the Society and Language course, and have these discussions and use these big words around and then completely get cut out from that environment and still be in an Armenian-speaking environment but not one where you are able to, you know, discuss these dense topics. You lose the ability.

[Shushan] Right. So, again, the importance of environment comes up and the importance of being in a linguistic environment that provides you a rich source of input and possibilities for output. Because I think what a lot of people have difficult understanding is, "Well you grew up in an Armenian-speaking home, how could you have an issue?" But what topics do you discuss at home, right? Are you discussing 19th century Armenian women's movements? Are you discussing the philosophical developments of Armenian poets? You're not... most likely, you know. I'm sure there are exceptions, someone can prove me wrong [laughing] but it's interesting, right, that you need these cocoons...

[Anahit] Yeah.

[Shushan] ... of this kind of rich - content-rich and linguistically rich - environments that challenge you. And it's interesting that you've constantly put yourself in these environments. So, where is Anahit now in terms of looking in the mirror? And have you come to terms with who you are as a heritage language speaker? I'm curious because something else I've noticed, and this is something recently that I've been thing about is: Did you ever think you were a native speaker? And was that some kind of... [pause] Was it difficult to, maybe, fall off the pedestal of a native speaker? Or you didn't have that issue? I've discovered recently that this is an issue with some people - that they assumed, "I'm Armenian. I'm born into an Armenian family. Then, by default, I'm a native speaker but I can't perform like one." And it's a deficit model instead of, "I'm Armenian-American, I'm Armenian born in America. So, whatever Armenian I have..." you know, this is glass half-full. I think people have very different reactions. And also, this idea that the native speaker is the ideal, ultimate model that we all have to strive for. And this was an issue in second-language pedagogy, right, that foreign language learners attempted to become native speakers and now, we know they can't. Is this something you've struggled with or are struggling with, or have you come to terms with who you are, where you are in this continuum and what... [pause] Do you have goals at this point?

[Anahit] Right. That's a very...

[Shushan] Sorry.

[Anahit] ... deep question.

[Shushan] That was a serious of questions as I kind of thought out loud. So just, you know...

[Anahit] Okay.

[Shushan] ... tackle it as you see fit.

[Anahit] I will work through it. So, I might be jumping around.

[Shushan] That's fine.

[Anahit] I have come to terms with my linguistic proficiency and I think that is also, in part, coming to terms with yourself and who you are as a person. There was an internal struggle for two to three years of me saying, "Well..." or thinking, "I thought I was a native speaker, but I'm not. How can that be?" And me trying to keep up with native speakers... [pause] But, I've also realized that, you know, if people are going to criticize you or judge you based on your linguistic proficiency... [pause] It does not matter if they're a native speaker, if they're a heritage speaker, if they're just a second language learner... [pause] That person will criticize you because they're just a mean person. And so, I think it took me hanging out with those kinds of people that would say, "Oh, yeah. You're an American-born Armenian. You can't keep up with us. You don't know Russian, like, you not really native Armenian if you don't also know Russian." There's this type of hierarchy there. And so, for a while I was very sad and then...

[Shushan] I think - sorry to interrupt you. I don't know if it's meanness or it's just ignorance. I think some of them just don't know. If you're a native speaker, you don't know what it feels like to be a heritage speaker, correct?

[Anahit] Correct. And I've come to realize that there's also the socio-political aspects that fall into it. And I think having... coming back to what we had talked about earlier, about having the wider picture and understanding the dynamics of that really made me come to terms with my linguistic proficiency. So, it started off - yes - struggling internally with linguistic proficiency and then a little bit of social climate there. But then when you all think about this whole economic environment and what led to people to where they are now, then you kind of fully understand. At least, for me it came full circle. So, I am content with where I am and that's not to say that I've stopped trying to learn Armenian. I'm still trying to read articles and, you know, I turn my Facebook feed into Armenian. [laughing] And it is hard when, you know, 90% of my day is in school, and is in classes, and it is doing research in an English setting and then discussing those ideas with my friends or my parents - it's hard to bring that back to Armenian. And it's interesting because I am studying sociolinguistics, yeah, broadly put in my field, and we do talk a lot about trying to come away from that deficit perspective and think of it from an asset perspective. So, that's something that comes up a lot in our department, in our classes. And actually this morning, I was having an [i+1] conversation of Stephen Krashen's...

[Shushan] Second Language Acquisition theory...

[Anahit] Right. And so, I thought about it for a second and I was like, "Wait, who's my [i+1] now? I'm [i+1] for some of my peers here at UCLA and who's my [i+1]? I think about it. I'm like, "Is it my parents? Well, yeah but I don't necessarily talk about these deep concepts with my parents." And then, you know, I have friends but we do sometimes - when we get to this higher educational conversation - just like automatically switches to English because we don't know how to talk about in Armenian. And I think it took a lot for me to realize that that's okay because I do live here and at the end of the day, I do have to find a job here and build my life or my career here. And through that, you know, I'll be supporting my family. And so, it's okay. And now, where I am now, is my kids. Now (inaudible) [laughing]

[Shushan] I was just going to ask but, of course, with every conversation or interview I've had - before I get to ask about the kids - it comes up.

[Anahit] Right. [laughing]

[Shushan] Okay. What about your future children?

[Anahit] It is a debate now within myself to put these kids in the immersion program or not, and I go back and forth on it a lot... [pause] And being in an education department and studying immersion programs but also studying programs that take the whole child approach or, you know, are Montessori types of schools and really putting that on the table and having to weigh it... conducting interviews with parents who have their children in immersion programs and caring what they have to say about it. And I'm still a huge fan of the immersion programs. But that is something where I know, maybe, about 10 years from now when it's time to think about where am I going to put my child. It is going to be a difficult decision to make. And, you know, who knows what the climate is going to be like in 10 years.

[Shushan] Well... but besides, you know, educational institutions, what about just language at home?

[Anahit] Right.

[Shushan] Is that something you've thought about?

[Anahit] Yes, and that's so interesting because... [pause] I'm glad you brought that up, because I think about it and I'm like, "Okay. I was raised in an Armenian monolingual household which then may have led me to reject Armenian after English became the dominant language." And being... not reprimanded, but being told to speak Armenian... Armenian only in the household. And so, now I think about it and I'm like, "Okay. Would I raise my kids in a bilingual household? No, because I wouldn't want my child to be English-dominant from zero to five. I would want to off hold that as much as possible. But at the same time, I would want them to be exposed to English so they don't end up rejecting Armenian when English does become the dominant language. And I have this conversation so often, where I'm like, "Yes, primary school is important and the topic around what type of school are you going to enroll your children in." But I think the angle you approach from zero to five is almost more important...

[Shushan] Absolutely.

[Anahit] ... than the type of institution that they do end up going to. And so, you know, how do I angle it in the household? And don't forget what you were about to say, but I think now speaking to parents... I think parents... [pause] What I understand too is that because of technology nowadays, kids - my generation - do have more resources. So, if they really try - and it is going to be an effort - they will be able to still maintain strong Armenian proficiency in the household. Sometimes during my free time, I go on YouTube and I find movies, and shows, and dubbed cartoons and I'm just like, "I wonder if my mom knew about these or if these even existed 20 years ago?" Like, "Were these available?" Like you know those websites...

[Shushan] Right.

[Anahit] ... where they have those the Armenian soap operas, and they have a kid section...

[Shushan] Right.

[Anahit] ... you know.

[Shushan] A couple of things: One, I think you brought up a very good point about making sure that the home environment is not punitive so that it's not "Armenian only or else," right? And I think a lot of parents kind of go down that path of having the best of intentions to maintain the heritage language but creating such a repressive environment that the first child that the... the first opportunity the child has, English becomes even more attractive when it already is the prestigious, powerful, dominant language. So, I think to maintain a healthy balance of, you know... [pause] Heritage language will always be out-competed by English. So, if you make it something punitive and something repressive, it's almost like you're increasing the chances that it will just be the weaker language. So, I think that's a very good point - to create a kind of healthy environment where... [pause] You can't punish a child for being a bilingual. You can't punish a child for being attracted to English - that's the dominant language. And children are perceptive.

[Anahit] Yeah.

[Shushan] They pick this up. So, I think that's a very, very good note. In terms of technology, I think technology is good but technology can never be a substitute for human interaction.

[Anahit] Right.

[Shushan] So, from zero to five, I think to rely on technology is... the main means of heritage language maintenance, I would argue, that's probably not a good idea. As a supplemental boast...

[Anahit] Right.

[Shushan] Because now you're an adult, right?

[Anahit] Right.

[Shushan] You have your interest. You can, you know, find something on YouTube. But, no... that's another thing I've seen - parents kind of hand off the iPad...

[Anahit] Exactly.

[Shushan] ... to their children. "Oh, there's an app that teaches Armenian." An app can't teach Armenian.

[Anahit] Oh.

[Shushan] Nothing can teach Armenian, right? Only human interaction, right? As Joshua Fishman says, "It's the lap," right?

[Anahit] Right.

[Shushan] Your mother's lap, your father's lap, your grandfather's lap...

[Anahit] Right.

[Shushan] So, you know, so many... so many interesting things. But I think your journey is so interesting and what I think makes it so unique is that you have been so reflective throughout the process that you've kind of looked in the mirror, and really analyzed your situation, and taken some very conscious steps. So, I'm very grateful that you decided to share that journey with us. And I think a lot of people who listen to this podcast will have moments of, you know, shared experience that may make their journey easier or, you know, maybe some of the questions you've dealt with are things they haven't even thought about.

[Anahit] Right.

[Shushan] But at this point, is there anything you wished I had asked? Or anything... any definitive moments that we didn't cover?

[Anahit] Two things, to end on a lighter note. [laughing] Well, the first is: Thank you for inviting me to speak. And I think... I'm glad I was able to share my experiences because I want someone else who is going through this to be able to hear this and know that they're alone. But also, note that maybe it might have been a little bit easier for me to reflect because I was surrounded by you and Professor Keshishian. And I was able to take your "Languages as a Diaspora" course and have these resources... and being a linguistics major, pull from these sources together. So, whoever is listening to this: Please, if you're feeling like this, don't worry. It will be worked out and you can always reach out to me...

[Shushan] Aw! [laughing]

[Anahit] I will send many, many articles your way. So, it's a community process. It's...

[Shushan] Right.

[Anahit] ... because of my advisors and who I've been looking up to that I've been able to have a safe space to be self-reflected. And second point... this is the lightest point and it's not about me, but it's about kids and intergenerational language maintenance. So, there's that birth order affect, right, where, you know, the first child is born and it's all Armenian and then the first children goes to school. And then the second child is born and already civiling interacting in English. There's something that I heard someone from my lab say who was having her third child... tell her older two daughters that, "You know, girls, when, you know, baby number three is born, she's only going to understand French. She's not going to understand English." And I'm like, "That is amazing!" [laughing] To tell your child that... [pause] And that's another way to, you know, maintain...

[Shushan] Right.

[Anahit] ... the home language, at least, for... I don't know, four years...

[Shushan] Well, I think I've told you... [pause] My older daughter didn't realize I knew English until she was...

[Anahit] Right! [laughing]

[Shushan] ... about five. I don't think I had lied to her and said I didn't know English. I had just allowed to believe that I only knew Armenian and I remember her shock at five when she heard me speaking English to, maybe, a teacher. [laughing] She's like, "Mom, you speak English?"

[Anahit] Yeah.

[Shushan] But that's a whole other podcast, right?

[Anahit] Yeah. [laughing]

[Shushan] Tricks that parents can use... [pause] And before we end, I want to say that we're going to have another podcast, interview chat, with Anahit. So, stay tuned about her work. She did this amazing, amazing research project on Armenian comedians and bilingual...

[Anahit] With your...

[Shushan] ... English-Armenian humor... the kind of scene, the comedy scene. And it's a very interesting project, very relevant, very timely, very entertaining. So we will do another interview talking about that particular project and we hope you'll listen along and laugh along with us. [laughing] But that's it for today, thanks Anahit.

[Anahit] Thank you.