Saturday, 3 July 2010

talking foreign

I am a lifelong language learner, just because I like it.  I am currently having a pop for half an hour or so each day (a different one each day, natch) at the following: Alsatian - probably will never speak it but it is widely spoken around here and I like to understand what I hear; Japanese - formerly interpreter standard now slipped back to intermediate level and it is my favourite language to speak; Russian - that was my degree, a long time ago, I can still speak and understand but want to pick up fluency and vocabulary again as I have Russian colleagues and friends; German - was a beginner when I came here but am slowly picking it up, we are 5K from the border and go shopping in Germany and the grammar is fab; Latvian - still at elementary level but I want to progress for the day when I realise my dream of a summer cottage on the Baltic coast in Latvia; Korean - I used to be a slow speaker and a good reader and would like to get back there for the sake of my ageing brain; Greek - total beginner but it is for my dream of living in Cyprus.  All of these I do on my own, either with my ancient Linguaphone tapes (the Linguaphone method is excellent but cassette tapes are really annoying) or with Eurotalk, which is highly recommended by me, you can get them either as CDs (nice games and visuals) or MP3.  Oh and French, in which until now I was never fluent apart from one summer long ago when I worked as an au pair in Brittany age 19.  That I do once a week in a class kindly provided by my employers and once a week with a private teacher hired by me.  I am at advanced level now but I doubt I will ever stop, because French is HARD.  This is not to say how fab or clever I am - most English people are over-impressed by fluency in another language - just to say that everyone can learn a language, because we all have.  And it is not true that children learn more quickly.  They learn more slowly in fact.  Almost all children take at least two years from birth to acquire reasonably fluent speech with a vocabulary which will meet their needs, and another ten years or more to acquire the vocabulary they will need for the rest of their lives.  And they do not have much else to do for the first few years.  And most of them have adults around them who spend time, often hours and hours a day, helping them to learn.  If they don't they will be seen as dysfunctional by the time they start school at five.  But an anglophone adult who comes to live in France with no French can become fluent enough for everyday life, social occasions, the TV, dealing with bureaucracy (I promise you this is necessary) cultural awareness and so on, in about six months, if they spend about an hour a day making an effort at it and if they have some kind of teacher (which can be a CD).  And that is apart from the time they spend at work or doing whatever else they do.  Some do not learn the language because they are too lazy or too scared.  But never because they cannot.  So you CAN.  Try it, you might like it.  And it is as good a brain gym as sudoku or puzzles.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for that - genuinely interesting. Every few years I try to learn koine Greek, and find that I have even forgotten the wretched alphabet, never mind the personal pronouns. Seriously, why do some people find language learning so difficult? I once saw a TV programme about the CIA's attempts to teach its staff various Asian languages: the agents were keen, money was no object, time was made available to them, but still the results were poor. Another serious question - are you musical? There seems to be some sort of correlation between musicianship and language skills - or is it that most linguists I know happen to sing in choirs?

jane said...

I have only recently understood, perhaps in the last five years, that if you work regularly at some kind of study then you will make progress, no matter what your perceived or actual level of capability is. Apologies if readers knew this, but the milieu in which I was educated labelled a person as "stupid" or "clever" very early. This is not helpful to either category. People who find language learning difficult are those who believe, or who are taught, that their own language is the only "real" one.and who also know that their language is spoken in many places in the world. And I am not musical. I wish I was. I cannot sing, though I bawl cheerfully in church every Sunday, and I cannot play an instrument despite childhood violin lessons (which I enjoyed and which taught me to read music, for which I am grateful, especially when I don't know the hymns in church) and teenage flirtation with guitar (which I cannot play). Now I would like a piano. Which I cannot play.

Anonymous said...

I can play one - but am not especially good at languages, although have never tried the hour a day suggestion and it might make a difference if I did.

I don't agree, however, that anyone can learn anything.
I was never called thick or stupid at school - indeed, quite the reverse - but could not do maths - cannot do maths - could not do physics - cannot do physics.

Far from being shunted into the academic dustbin as far as these subjects were concerned,I was forced to spend time and energy convincing teachers and the school that - NO - I was never going to be able to do maths - was never going to be able to convert a fail with the lowest possible grade into even the lowest possible pass and that, rather than waste my sixth form years re-sitting and therefore taking time away from chosen A level subjects - I should just be allowed to give the subject up.
I was eventually allowed to do so - but not before my parents, the Head and both Deputies had been called in to a 'summit'.
I got 3 Grade As at A level to go with the other 11 O levels - and yes, I am extremely proud of that.

Don't care about not getting maths - or not being able to ride a bike or drive a car - can't do those things. Can't do whizz bang things on a computer either and school-style French is about my limit.Don't care about that either.
Fortunately ,we are not all the same - don't have the same brains etc etc.

And I am pleased that I can read, analyse and discuss books. Not everybody can - or would be able to - but I can. So I am pleased about that and don't care about the rest.
It will the the same for others about other things.

Anonymous said...

Some people (with good ears?) are better at the aural/oral side of languages, while others are better at the written side.

I can work out roughly what language someone is speaking, but I find it difficult to understand virtually any language.

However, I can learn different alphabets, and can understand grammar, so that I can pick up a book and translate it, occasionally using a dictionary.

jane said...

anon 0109 - yes of course. My point was not that anyone can do anything, but that if you work at something consistently you will learn and make progress. Whoever you are. Whatever your talents and capabilities. Whether you are a visual, auditory or kinaesthetic learner. And often it is worth doing. What late hours you peeps do keep.

St Martin S, Reading said...

Pardon. Je ne comprends pas. S'il vous plait parlez Anglais.

I'm incapable of learning to talk foreign.

En passant, avez-vous jamais lu A la recherche du temps perdu de Proust? C'est magnifique.

jane said...

bien sur que oui, je l'ai lu, mais cela prend bien du temps! En fait Proust etait lui-meme "closet gay", n'est-ce pas?

St Martin S, Reading said...

Hmm. Well, nothing surprises me with these continental types.

Leurs manières étrangères sont aussi mystérieux pour moi comme leur langue.

Anonymous said...

Wrong thread. Jeffrey John .