The Multilingual Self: An Inquiry into Language Learning

The Multilingual Self: An Inquiry into Language Learning

The Multilingual Self: An Inquiry into Language Learning

The Multilingual Self: An Inquiry into Language Learning


For a wide audience of students and scholars of second-language learning and cultural identity, this book relates the author's stories about how languages have integrated her being, defined and formed her sense of self.


Sarah Benesch The College of Staten Island The City University of New York

In The Multilingual Self. An Inquiry into Language Learning, Natasha Lvovich takes us through her experiences learning French, Italian, and English. The early stories portray her acquisition of French as an intellectual and emotional escape from difficult conditions in the Soviet Union, her native country. Next, she describes her acquisition of Italian while she and her family lived in Italy, waiting for permission to enter the United States. Later stories show that acquiring English as an immigrant forced a reckoning with everyday life in her adopted country, the United States.

Lvovich grew up in Moscow in an educated Jewish family, alienated from Soviet life. She passionately studied French language and culture to transcend the conditions of her Soviet life, to create a fantasy, to join an exclusive club. Lvovich read French literature, listened to chansonniers, saw French films, wrote a master's thesis on the poet Alfred de Vigny, and made French friends. Although she never imagined being allowed to visit France, Lvovich immersed herself in exported French culture and language. When, during glasnost, she was finally permitted to travel to Paris, Natasha felt at home in the bookstores, movie theaters, and cafés. These were the icons of the French culture she had made her own. It was only later that Lvovich began to question her attachment to French culture-for-export and to wonder if something had been missing in her relationship to French, something that might have been gained by living and working in France.

The realization that her French persona is a fantasy comes to Lvovich when she and her family emigrate to Brooklyn. Here she must confront the disheartening realities of immigrant life: searching for an apartment, for work, for dignity, for an identity. Her initial impulse is to gravitate toward . . .

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