I like words. I like noticing patterns and links and building up sentences. I actually really like verb drills (sad I know). Every year, when I was younger, our Spanish cousins would come over and the family would get together. Our Auntie was English and had married a Spaniard, who didn’t speak any English. Their children were brought up bi-lingual, but because our uncle didn’t speak English, they’d revert quite often back into Spanish when speaking around us. I was fascinated by the way these sounds and syllables made up new words and a new language. So I started learning Spanish words from a book at around age 10. I couldn’t work out what they were saying in detail because I didn’t have the grammar, but I’d understand the words in between and get a gist.
I mean, it’s amazing how you can have a conversation with another person in your native language without thinking about it. It’s not until you have to learn another language that you realise how much you take for granted just being able to understand so easily. We also spent a lot of time on holiday in France, so before I started learning French at school, I’d already quizzed my mum for phrases I could practise while we were out and about. When I was about 13, my English Uncle married a French woman and moved over to France. We went to the wedding and my brother and I were sat with other children, who only spoke French- the other English kids were babies and toddlers. I wanted to talk to them at the time and couldn’t, so when I got back, I started doing grammar drills online and learning lists of French words. When I lived in France for my Year Abroad, I went back to stay with my French Family, which was great.
I studied GCSE and A-level French and German and then studied French at University. I’m not always completely accurate in what I say, but, and this is where studying music helped, I’m pretty good at improvising. For example, I managed to get our car’s alternator fixed and a tow truck organised on one trip; I got rescued off a mountain after I fell over skiing, and sorted out physio in the French town I lived in for when I got back; I had to call an ambulance and have surgery on my knee while living in France, and have ended up interpreting for some foreign newly arrived pupils who struggle with English when they first try to enrol at school. Not many of those words came up from my formal language learning. But I like those situations- you learn a lot, fast!
In languages I haven’t formally learnt, I travelled to Brazil when I was 15 and learnt some Portuguese before going. I understood a bit because of the Spanish and French links, but mainly mimed words in return until a Brazilian person said them to me, and then added them to my vocabulary. I spent ages practising Dutch phrases when we stayed with a friend in the Netherlands, only to find that once I’d proudly said them, the waiters just spoke to me in (impeccable) English. I still enjoyed trying- thanks to my patient friend! In the last few years, I’ve taught pupils who have over 50 languages between them- I tried to learn ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ in each of them, which they found hilarious. ‘Put your phone away please’ was also a useful phrase to learn….
Once you get past the initial ‘this is really tiring, and I can’t understand half of what’s being said’ phase, it’s great. I like eavesdropping on people and listening to the way they phrase things. When you realise you’re thinking less in English and more in the target language, it’s a fantastic feeling. I like trying out new phrases, again, even if I’m not very good. I really hate the attitude of ‘the whole world speaks English, why do we need to learn another language’? I find it fascinating that language impacts on culture and vice versa. I didn’t do a lot of French and Spanish teaching, but when I did, the kids used to tell me that I was a geek because I was excited by words!
I’m re-learning Spanish now and I’m really enjoying it. Because I was obsessive with verb drills when I was younger, I know the conjugations, I just don’t necessarily know the tense they apply to. Hopefully I’ll get the chance to practise soon in ‘real life’ as opposed to scenarios conjured up by the programme.
Photo: Stock Google Image