02 January 2016

Why I learn languages,and why I'm not learning any languages

I've probably said before, but the reason I like learning languages is because of the look on people's faces when I speak their language to them.

What I didn't realise was how far back this went.

My dad was a teacher at my high school, and I knew the main janitor before I knew most of the teachers. Lucien, the janny, was from France, and by a couple of years into high school I would say "Bonjour" to him - I couldn't say much else, but it was enough.

When my dad started talking about him this Christmas, the main memory in my head was just a smile - the delight of being spoken to in his own language, even for a moment. It was the same sensation that I've seen so many times since, and I started to wonder why it had taken me so long to start learning languages properly, and then I realised that I've stopped learning again.

I remember that all through my late teens and early twenties, I was keen on the idea of learning languages, and I picked up a couple of books here and there but never got anywhere. I only started to get the proper motivation back when I started speaking broken high-school Italian to a young woman serving in a local sandwich shop. Again I tried picking up the old books, and again I put them down.

As it turns out, restarting a half-forgotten language was really hard - if you attempt to read notes on things you already sort of know, you switch off, so that's when I switched to new languages: Spanish and then Scottish Gaelic. After that, returning to tidy up my French and Italian was a lot easier.

But right now, I'm not really learning, or relearning, or even consolidating anything. Why not? Maybe it's because I can already give lots of people the satisfaction of hearing their own language. More likely, though, it's just because I'm not meeting enough non-English-speaking people. That would be understandable, I suppose. Last summer I moved to an island off the north-west coast of Scotland, where I'm studying full-time, and there aren't many foreigners in the area at all.

What there is, though, is a lot of native speakers of Gaelic, and I just keep falling back to English.

Am I just being lazy? Or is my brain overworked? Or am I just being antisocial?

Probably a bit of each. I really want to get back on track this year, and start learning something new. To that end, I'm starting to plan my summer holidays now -- an epic cycle journey across part of Europe. I need to take in at least one area which requires a new language, and at the moment, I think Germany fits the bill. I've already got a solid basis to build on, so I just need to build fluency and vocab and see where I can get to.

Even just thinking about it, I can start to feel some of the anticipation building.


Anonymous said...

Peregrinus here (fellow bannee from HTLAL and from the bizarro world of Polydog).

When you say you are not even consolidating, do you mean you are not even using any of your languages passively? If so, that is laziness :) and would be a shame. While I am a fervent believer/user of Anki, once you have a base you can take the longer but effective route of extensive reading for vocab and usage acquisition. I don't really have any opportunities to speak or write German, but I listen to German radio and television and read German newspapers every day via the internet. I plan to do the same with Spanish again this year after cramming enough vocab via Anki.

Since you mentioned German, why not listen to a couple Hörspiel each week? If you want to read scripts from which you can pick up a lot of current vocab and usage, try here: http://www.rocky-beach.com/hoerspiel/skript/skript.html

Best wishes,


Nìall Beag said...

I never really managed to get any stable medium-to-long term use out of SRS at all -- I don't think I ever went more than 3 weeks without stopping. I've started watching more foreign language videos again, and now that Channel 4 have started putting a lot of world TV on their website under the "Walter Presents" brand, there's some really good stuff available.

But I'm tired, jaded and just don't have the attention span for extra hard work on top of the soul-crushingly disorganised postgraduate certificate course I'm currently doing.

Nìall Beag said...

I also wouldn't say my German's really at a level where I could get a great deal out of TV or radio.