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As this is my 30th review I thought I'd do something a bit more personal. At school, I always enjoyed learning languages. I began learning very simple German at home aged around 7 when my dad spent some time working in Germany. I was always fascinated by the language and what it meant to be able to communicate. But, as I grew older and wasn't really exposed to it I didn't get too far.
Once I started secondary school I had to learn French. Some people had studied it at primary school, but for me it was a whole new adventure. It seemed to come relatively easy and by the end of the first term I'd over taken most of those with previous experience. A year later I started German too, and again it came quite easily. Perhaps my very early exposure had given me a boost. I studied both up to GCSE level and almost did an extra A-S Level in German, but I was sadly not superwoman and couldn't have been in two places at once.
Once I stopped formally learning I had little use for my languages, and rarely visited countries where they were spoken. About 14 years later and I'd begun to develop a real love of all things Flemish. It began when visiting the Amsterdam area for a few days with my parents around the time I was first learning German. As an adult I visited Amsterdam several times then began to venture out into other cities such as The Hague and Haarlem.
In Amsterdam it is perfectly possible to speak nothing but English and have no one bat an eyelid. For my 30th birthday we spent a few days in Bruges. I always love to poke around museums and take in the local sites. One of the main museums in Bruges helpfully provided us with an English guide - one or two laminated sheets of A4 for the admittedly small museum. There was obviously more information there in Dutch, and it really made me think seriously about finding a class. This, coupled with a desire to someday spend a few months working in a Dutch museum, spurred me on so I started looking. I searched the local colleges and managed to find one course that ran at Leeds Metropolitan University. Sadly this was on a Tuesday evening, and at the time I worked until 8pm. The only other one I found in Yorkshire was one that may or may not run in York.
After another year I left my job to move elsewhere, and suddenly had Tuesday nights free two weeks before the new academic year began. I enrolled on a beginner's course in Dutch Language and Culture, which after two years would give me a University Certificate. The course is roughly 30 weeks a year for two hours a week. They offer a wide variety of other languages such as Spanish, Chinese and French and run courses on most nights of the week, usually somewhere between 6 and 9. For the beginner's level you don't need any previous language experience, and courses were £250 for the academic year in September 2013.
I am currently two thirds of the way through my second year, and am really enjoying it. However, it is so much harder than I imagined it would be. I think this is for a variety of reasons, both to do with the language itself and my older brain. I've heard many people talk about how children are much better at learning new languages, but was never convinced it could be that much harder as an adult. However, now I think it is partly down to the inhibitions that adulthood brings. I don't have the confidence in my abilities to always put myself out there, and I'm more fearful of failing and getting things wrong than I was a teenager with little experience of the wider lessons of life. When you're attempting to converse with someone but can't bring yourself to say anything because you can't decide on the right way to say it there's no wonder things are tough.
The Dutch language itself is almost mystical. For every rule, there is usually a set of common exceptions to the rule, and if you're really lucky, exceptions that don't fit into any of the other categories that you just have to learn individually. This seems to apply to just about everything, particularly in grammar, sentence structure, and verb conjugation. When you add that to the fact some of it is sort of like German, but not quite enough to help your Dutch - more make you sound like a German trying to speak Dutch; it has influences of French which throws you off with pronunciation when they just import words; and some words sound distinctly English but that doesn't necessarily mean they are spelt the same if you are writing them, or even mean the same in the odd case (for example 'of' (pronounced 'off') in Dutch means 'or' in English...).
Perhaps the most difficult part has been the pronunciation. G sounds more like gggggggghhhhhhh (or the sound you make when trying to produce phlegm), and such sounds make their own problems. That said, I've always been better with the written than spoken word and enjoy the challenge of unpicking paragraphs - although I'm not so good at short sentences, I'm better at getting the gist rather than a literal translation. I've found a great radio app online - www.nederland.fm - which links to several Dutch radio stations streams, so I've spent a good few hours week listening to Dutch music and File reports (traffic - they seem to have an obsession with the length of queues).
Having spent 18 months learning, I've found having lessons has been really helpful. It gives you the opportunity to practice conversational skills with someone who can help and correct you, whilst you can support each other in the class as everyone has strengths and weaknesses. It also gives a focus with weekly homework and tasks. That said, the classes are not enough alone. Visiting the country helps as you get a chance to actually think on your feet in a setting where you can just get stuck in. Online websites can provide useful hints and tips, google translate can be helpful but not relied on. Listening to the radio has been helpful, as has listening to Dutch bands such as Doe Maar and watching films.
If you're looking for something to do, maybe a way to meet new people, and developing a new skill I would definitely recommend taking up a new language. It opens up a new culture and allows you to witness things in places that tourists usually miss out on. Although, if you don't like to visit The Netherlands or Belgium I would probably suggest a slightly easier language!
Je m'appelle so and so
J'habite en Angleterre.
Without fail, these are the 3 notorious phrases firmly drilled into the minds of every ex-french pupil. Rightly so. And a pretty good testament to the power that languages can have on the mind. It's also these 3 phrases that ensure that should we ever embark on a voyage across the English channel we'll at least be able to have a stab at an intro before exchanging broken French for really loud English in the desperate hope of being understood.
I really love learning languages now, so much so that I decided to study them (French and Italian) at University level. Still, for me I know that language learning was impeded by a number of different reasons. The first being that throughout most of high school, learning French was just that thing-we-have-to-do-cos-the-school-won't-make-it-optional subject. My second problem with language learning was that all through my totty years of high school (Year 7- Year 9ish) it never really held my interest. But most importantly, I never really enjoyed learning French. This was probably down to a number of more specific reasons:
a) I was shy and didn't like having to read aloud in class or answering questions.
b) I disliked my teacher, or more specifically French lessons.
Obviously, these factors didn't help the learning curve but I think that in general, the way in which pupils respond to languages is largely partly to do with their attitudes towards it.
Lots of people I knew just hated that they had no choice in having to learn a language at school, usually saying 'I'm rubbish at it' or 'I know I don't want to go into languages so what's the point' or even 'who needs another language, most people speak English anyway.' Eeeek! But I don't think there was enough said about the benefits of learning a language. It was only really on having a conversation with my parents round about the time I was able to make choices about what languages I wanted to study (Year 9 I think) where the usefulness and importance of learning a language was really driven home. Words such as 'leaving university with an edge' 'working overseas' really peaked my interest as I've always wanted to spread my wings and see the world, and languages seemed the easiest gateway to do this.
How to improve language skills
Spending time in the target country is most definitely one of the best ways to learn a language just as learning a language is one of the best ways to open up your horizons and doors in fields such as business (the word 'multilingual' always looks good on a CV), culture- learning about your language's culture helps you to view things differently - and socially. Because of the nature of multicultural Britain, I've come across many people who are either of french or francophone backgrounds or are learning a language and the fact that you share some interests from the outset creates a bedrock on which to build conversation.
But obviously, lots of people can't afford to just get up and spend a year out immersing themselves into a new culture. So, the next best method is to immerse yourself in the culture whilst from your own home. I've picked up various ways to do this as I've gone along:
1. Enrol on a course.
If you're serious about language-learning then I'd say find a course you like the sound of and stick to it. It doesn't have to be at University level- many colleges and establishments offer beginner, intermediate and advanced courses in a range of different languages, summer courses and crash courses if you're wanting to learn the essential before holiday
2. Locate key sources of information
Try and compile a list of sites which offer free exercises, interactive courses and games in the target language as this will make learning more fun. Sites such as youtube also offer quick ways to expand vocabulary, by just typing in a few key phrases
3.Read the target language
I found reading information in the target language difficult to begin with but it's also one of the best ways to build up vocabulary. As you're reading you're also picking up an understanding of the way in which sentence structures work and other grammatical features. It's best to have studied the grammar of the language at least on a basic level before starting reading otherwise you might get a bit discouraged at not being able to understand most of the text. But you can decide whether you start off with beginner books, leaflets, or novels if you want to start off at the deep end. The main thing is to get used to looking up any words you don't understand and keep a small notebook to write down the sentence in which they appear as this will help you to memorise them as they're in context.
If you prefer reading online, find a site with text. For example. I try and read the French newspaper 'le Monde' daily and always note down new headlines and interesting new words. Also, if you can make one of these sites your internet homepage, even if you don't have time to read the entire article, you can always have a quick scan whilst you're waiting for something to download on the computer.
4. Find a pen-pal or online forum
With social networks and online forums easy to join this is a great way to practice language skills. I used 'google.fr' to search French forums and although I waited a while before I had the confidence to contribute, I did read some of the posts by other native speakers which really helped. The only problem is you might pick up wrongly-spelt words and there might be a lot of slang involved.
I'd say the most important thing is if you're wanting to take up languages (either officially or self-taught) is to ENJOY. I have teachers and now tutors to thank for that. I'd also say keep working at it. Especially your weaknesses. I used to absolutely dread learning French grammar until I finally realised it wasn't going to go away and that my speaking, writing and listening were all suffering because of it. So, I pulled my socks up, fished out the grammar books and practiced practiced practiced to the point that I now still find certain aspects difficult but it's much improved.
Also, if you can afford it and if you have the time, I would again strongly recommend visiting the country. Immersing yourself in the target language country is definitely an effective way to improve quickly but make sure you surround yourself with French speakers not English which I've heard can be harder to do than it sounds.
Here are a few links and resources which I've proved to be highly useful during my language learning curve:
French Grammar, 5th Edition, Schaum's Outlines (full of grammar explanations and exercises suitable for beginners- advanced level)
Oxford Hachette French dictionary (One of the really big bilingual dictionaries)
New advanced French Vocabulary: Paul Humerstone, ed 2006
This is mainly a resource for school so can't be accessed without subscription between the hours of 9am and 4pm, however outside of these hours the resources are free. There are listening, reading and writing exercises from beginner level up to A-level French, German and Welsh.
I've only included the French links (not Italian) as this is the language I started off learning, but if you'd like any suggestions for Italian sources feel free to message me!
Get your lips round some new words!!!
Learning a foreign language can be a very long haul. If you are young or have plenty time, it's not so bad but for all hopeful language learners, it's well worth finding some shortcuts and an accelerated learning approach can provide the answer. There are a range of books on accelerated learning and I've used some of these techniques combined with my own ideas to fast track language acquisition without spending hours on grammar drills.
My suggested approach makes language learning more fun and a lot quicker. Here's what to do.
Perhaps the most important point is to set out with a positive outlook and expectation. If you start from the point of view that learning a language is difficult and you'll never succeed, all that negative reinforcement will probably defeat you. Tell yourself that you love the language, enjoy learning it and find it easy.
Don't be black and white in your thinking. People tend to classify themselves as speaking or not speaking a language with anything short of fluency, being classed as not speaking. Even learning your own language is a lifelong task, so think of another language as a continuous road that you are walking on. The minute you say your first, 'Ola,' you have started on that journey.
There is obviously a big difference regarding the level of language exposure you can achieve depending whether you are living in the country of the target language or learning from your own country. Either way, overloading is recommended by bombarding yourself with the language. Try to do this during every spare minute. Even if you are an absolute beginner, listen to the radio in the language, watch TV, online video clips or play an MP3 player. You might not understand a word of it but you will start to absorb the sounds and rhythm of the language. When you start to speak it, your pronunciation will be more accurate and you will find that reading makes more sense. After doing this for some time, you will start to notice that the language is not one, incomprehensible stream of sound but real words and meaning that you can pick out.
If you are able to, it's worth buying newspapers, magazines and watching the news in the target language. It's really good when you already know what the news story is about as this will aid your understanding.
Build up your vocabulary by labelling the house. Write the words for mirror, cupboard, wardrobe, etc. on a piece of paper and stick it to the item. Once you have learnt the words, remove the labels. Use your journey to work or school to develop more vocabulary by asking yourself, 'what's this in ...?' You can also use such time on inner dialogue to practice simple phrases.
When you find words tricky, break them into pieces, look for sounds that are familiar in your own language and create an associate. Use association as much as possible, particularly for vocabulary. For example, dog in Portuguese is cao, pronounced, cow. That's an easy image; cat is gato; think of a cat eating a great big gateau! Make your images as colourful, big and weird as possible. You will find that you will remember words straight away. Generally people limit themselves to the idea that you can only learn a few new words each day; with this approach, you can learn fifty or more.
When learning a language with genders, always learn the gender when you learn a new word. Do this by colour coding it or putting it in a different place in your mind. For examples female words in the bedroom, male words in the garage, neutral words in the hall - anywhere that makes sense to you. To remember the gender, all you have to do, is remember where you put the word.
As for grammar, working your way through endless grammar drills of conjugations can be tiring and tiresome. Instead, learn some key phrases that use different tenses. If you only learn one per day, this will give you 365 grammar templates in a year; enough to construct the language and replicate other sentences using the same form. This will happen by imprinting the shape of the sentence on your mind rather than through conscious processing which will always take longer and be less natural.
Two final things that are very helpful are, firstly, to read a wide variety of material from advertising leaflets to zoology books and everything in between. Don't keep stopping to look up words all the time as after a while many of them will be picked up naturally. Secondly, don't forget to speak! From day one, use the language, even if all you know is hello, goodbye, please and thank you. This will avoid fear of speaking. Jump in, straight way and you will find that the water isn't as cold as you expected. Learning a language this way can be great fun and rewarding too. It's just a matter of technique.
* Also posted on Helium*
If you are reading this, chances are you have already learned one of the most complex languages there is; English. As native speakers we often don't realise quite how challenging English is. If you don't believe me ask anyone who speaks English as a second language how hard it was to understand the difference between "I live, I am living, I have lived and I have been living" - in French anyway they are all said in the same way, but English is full of nuances and a ridiculously huge vocabulary.
As English speakers you would, therefore, think that we should all be equipped to learn another language, but my experience as a Teacher of Languages and rather poor learner of German leads me to believe that this is not necessarily the case.
Perhaps the thing that holds us most back in this country is, ironically, the fact that English is so widely spoken. Somewhere in our collective consciousness we seem to think that if we speak English loud enough everyone will understand us eventually. Anyone who has travelled will have found out that this isn't so, and that actually even the most pathetic attempt to speak to someone in their own tongue really does reap rewards and is always appreciated.
Personally, for me, speaking another language to bi-lingual level is a joy, it enables me to see the world differently. It is hard to explain but the way that I think in French is entirely different to my thoughts in English. In English I might feel "good" whilst in French I feel "well in my skin". I have gained so much from learning another language, and met people and been to places I wouldn't have any other way. You don't need to get to a very high level to reap the rewards in my opinion.
Now you might be thinking computers are the answer these days and learning a language is pointless. Spend any time on, e.g, a site like this and you soon discover the limitations of the auto-translator. If you don't believe me type "J'ai le cafard" into babel fish or the like, and the translation of "I have the cockroach" goes nowhere near explaining the great idiomatic expression in French that expresses feeling "down" or "blue".
Computers just can't get these nuances, where I would argue that, given the right motivation, we as humans can. Our brains are amazing and learning a language is one way of tapping into our untapped ability.
So if I have convinced you in any way to put behind you any prejudices you might be harbouring from any bad language learning experience, how do you go about learning a language? Hopefully some of my tips will help!
- Find your motivation. Whether that is that foreign holiday, being able to understand some of a subtitled film, wanting to help your child with homework or connect with others, think about what you want to achieve and keep that in mind.
- Work out which method works for you. We all learn differently, I know for example that I can't learn a word unless I have seen it written down. This may be you, or you might learn by hearing a word. We all need to hear a word at least 7 times before we can reproduce it, on average. Like babies who quickly learn words that are useful to them "biscuit" is quite often an early word, start with words of interest to you and don't be worried to have a go at speaking.
If you are working with a teacher they should know that everyone has a different learning style and cater for that. That said, in my own learning of German I have found teachers just not able to make me, a willing adult learner, understand, so you may have to find the right teacher.
These days there are lots of mainly free learning tools on the internet, as well as books. The bbc website is a good first port of call and some of the games and activities can be good fun and build up confidence.
The most effective form of learning is immersion, go into any inner-city multi-lingual school to see proof of that, but failing that make the most of opportunities to hear and speak the language that you are learning.
- Understand the process. These days it is generally accepted in language learning that being taught in the language you want to learn, the "target language" is what works best. This is a relatively new idea, but if you come across a teacher like me who mainly uses the target language to teach, don't be put off. If you allow yourself to listen to the words you do understand you will be suprised how much more will follow. You can work out the grammar later, and use your English knowledge to help your recognise words in another language (cognates).
As babies we all learned to listen, then speak, and as children to read and write. In language learning the process is, or should be, the same. Knowing this can help you learn. Also being aware that finding one skill easier than another is normal can help confidence too.
- Have fun! This is perhaps the most important aspect of all, if you can find a language you love you will enjoy it and learn it more easily.
That said I will not deny that learning a language does require hard work - my own experience of learning German is proof of that, and I have a husband, bless him, who after several French holidays can just about manage to ask for a beer and say "Happy New Year". Those methods that promise to "Teach you Spanish in a Week" are never going to be successful in my opinion and some effort is required.
You will probably have guessed that I am passionate about language learning and truly believe that the benefits to be gained are vast and that it is a worthwhile activity. I can't undo the negative impact of substandard teaching or ill-founded prejudices, but hopefully I have made a good case for having a go and being open to at least trying to learn another language.
My late father used to go on every holiday, to whatever destination, armed with a smile, a phrase book and an ability to mispronounce everything in every language. I totally admired his willingness to have a go and it made for some interesting bus journeys in Greece when I was a child. I think if we were all a bit like my dad the world probably would be a better place.
In my work I try to help people learn a language and hope that some of you, if you are not doing so already, can and will learn at least a small part of another language. It honestly opens up a whole new world! Bon courage! - that's french by they way, and if you have understood what it meant and didn't know it before you have already learned something new, see, it isn't too bad, is it?
When I was about 7 years old I didn't know back then how learning new languages will become important in my life, but my dad though it would be great idea to learn German so he sign me up for to a private tutor. I didn't really care much about it and 3 years later when we had to choose one foreign language at school , I though I would try English. Again at first I love it was proud of myself with every new word I have learn. Then I went to high school and had to add second foreign language to my English. I choose German even if I didn't like that much at age 7 I though it would be easier since I knew few words already. I didn't realize how much difference can teacher make. German language become my favorite subject and I started to hate English, because our teachers was actually Russian teacher who could barely speak English and I would never learn anything new and listening to that horrible pronunciation didn't make it any better. I finished High school went to University and I had to take some English lesson again to get credits I needed. English again become my favorite subject , because our teacher could actually speak it. Yes , I went trough all this classes from my childhood to my University years, but never really came in touch with Germans or English people where I could practise my language skills, until I met my today husband. I was horrified and disappointed in myself how little I could understand. I didn't really talk much English to him, but I was showing with hands , what I wanted.
Yes, after 11 years of English at school, I could hardly understand him and he could hardly understand me. But I knew that if I am going to learn real English it will be only with him. And I did. You should see my face , when I read my first book in English and for first time I didn't even need dictionary. I was the happiest girl in the world. I was so proud of myself. And now I am living in Florida attending to the college this year and I know I still have much more to learn in English, but I know that it could be done.
I am from a little country and I know if I would not speak any other foreign language it would be hard for me to even find a work. But of course there is a different between speaking English and between someone graduating from school who thinks they do speak English, but when they meet with a real American or British they could hardly say a word. I went trough all this with English and also with German, when I lived over in Germany for two years and I have still so much to learn, but now I realize how important it is to learn a new language.
It is one of the most commonly made misconceptions that everyone in the world speaks english. Admittedly in business it is a very useful language, and many other countries learn it, but there is no reason why we should rely on others to communicate with us in our language, when we could just as easily make the effort to learn theirs.
I have been brought up billingual, so I was aware of the benefits of speaking two languages from an early age. This enabled me to fit into two countries, two cultures and communicate with two different nationalities, hugely opening my doors. I then went on to university to learn German and Spanish which I had already been studying for seven years. While these weren't as fluent as my French, it opened yet more doors for me, especially spanish, and meant that I had three more country's worth of people, culture and experiences to enjoy.
If you are moving abroad or even just going on holiday, it is just so important to at least learn a little bit of the language. It is easy to absorb another language if you are utterly surrounded by it, so it's well worth to make the effort and learn something new. It infuriates me when people claim they want to move to spain, france, italy etc, and then complain that they can't communicate with everyone. For goodness sake! Just learn the language! If kids aged 11 can start learning another language, why can't adults? It's not beyond anybody, if you've learnt how to speak english, you can learn another one.
The merits of learning a language in terms of mixing with another culture are obvious, but it's not only that. Using your memory in a different way to learn a language is hugely beneficial. It means you can double your vocabulary, broadening your mental capacity, and keeps your memory recall up to scratch.
So whether it's for work, business or pleasure, why not stray away from the typical English mentality of not needing to learn a language other than English? Just one or two hours a week can have you enjoying a whole new aspect of life that you never expected!
Speaking as a French tutor, I think more people should learn another language. Specifically, I think they should learn French. From me. I have to make a living somehow.
In the unlikely event that that hasn't persuaded everybody, I do have some genuine reasons for saying that more people should learn a foreign language. I will now list and explain these.
Firstly, whenever I've been abroad - generally in France, I have on more than one occasion been witness to the most cringeworthy behaviour in the Brit/Irish/American Abroad armoury - the use of Loud English. You're speaking to a shop assistant - she's French. She doesn't speak English. She's not meant to, you're in Marseille. She will not understand what you say any better if you SAY IT AGAIN AT TEN TIMES THE VOLUME. Put yourself in her place. If you were in Tesco and some overly confident Parisian bowled up to you saying "EXCUSEZ-MOI OU SE TROUVENT LES BANANES?" you'd be more than a little put out, wouldn't you?
It takes a few lessons, a few hours to get to the point where you can politely explain that your French/Spanish/Polish isn't good enough to sustain a conversation, and it makes it a lot less likely that kitchen staff will empty their nostrils into your soup.
Another reason, perhaps less frequently expressed, is that learning a second language gives you a better appreciation of your own mother tongue. Learning French has expanded my English vocabulary immensely, as there are quite a lot of words in each language which have their roots in the other. The process of learning a language makes you aware of linguistic structure which you generally won't have paid attention too when learning to speak your own language - after all, you've been speaking your own language since you were a child and back then, Tonka trucks were more important than tenses.
If you don't feel that you'll ever speak another language to the same level that you speak your own - and hey, most people never quite manage that - even being able to ask where the milk is will prove you've made the effort, and this makes people a whole lot more receptive towards you. I lived in France for eight months while doing my degree, and had heard all the usual cliches about the French - how rude they were, how unhelpful and unwelcoming. It occurs to me now that this impression was imparted by people who couldn't be bothered communicating in French, because the people I met were delightful, polite and great company.
The final reason I am so thankful to have learnt another language is a cultural one - cinema, to be specific. There are so many wonderful French films, and to watch them is for me a joy and an education. Learning French exposed me to the wonderful "A Bout de Souffle", Godard's classic story about a self-proclaimed outlaw; "Tenue de Soiree" - Depardieu at his best; "La Vie est un Long Fleuve Tranquille", a chaotic riot of comedy and social commentary. I would still be unaware of these pleasures had I not chosen to develop my understanding of the French language, and I would be much poorer for it.
Aside from all that, I've been told it sounds really sexy when I speak French. That's got to clinch it, surely?
I speak few foreign languages to a different degree of fluency. My mother tongue is Romanian, I was born there.
I learnt Russian at school since at that time we were part of the Eastern Block. Many of my school mates did not like Russian since it is a Slavic language and we have a Latin language, but I was different and always thought that learning a different language would make me richer as a person (not financially, purely on a personal level)
Later I moved to UK and learnt English in London, on my own, listening to music and reading the lyrics and also talking to people and learning grammar on the books. I had a boyfriend from Cardiff, and this helped me a lot to improve!
I later took up Spanish, again, with music and the help of (another) boyfriend from Mallorca, Spain. I lived for a while in Palma de Mallorca, later in Barcelona and then went traveling in Mexico for 1 month and by the time I came back I was extremely fluent.
I have tried German, but not knowing anyone who speaks the language has not helped me a lot. I also learnt French with flatmates I lived with.
Today my Russian is helping me in my job since I work with Russian clients and I am happy I studied it in the old days. Nobody at that time could think that there would be so much business with Russia, and, guess what, today the reality is that if you speak Russian, you have many opportunities in the city.
The takeaway is that in my case, I learnt languages with a combination of traditional teaching and relationship with people.
English may be considered as the international language, but we travel abroad so frequently and so many Brits are moving to sunnier parts of Europe that language learning would seem to be increasingly important.
It doesn't help that it is no longer compulsory for secondary school pupils to study a foreign language for GCSE; many of them don't find languages easy and are glad to drop them at the first opportunity. Paradoxically, language learning in primary schools is now much more common and will soon become compulsory. This could make quite a difference, as the younger a child starts to learn a foreign language, the easier it is. Children brought up in households where two different languages are spoken are naturally fluent in both of them. I have taught French to children as young as two and a half, and am sometimes surprised at how much they can pick up and how easily they seem to imitate the accent without feeling self-conscious.
If for whatever reason you decide to start learning a foreign language as an adult, be prepared to put in as much time and effort as you can afford. I would not advise trying to learn by yourself unless you have previously learned at least one other language, or unless you already have a basic knowledge of the language from your schooldays.
Evening classes are widely available in common European languages, but not everyone is attracted to them. You will obviously be part of a group, and may find that the level of other students is considerably lower or higher than your own. The cost, however, will be reasonable. If you are hoping to gain a qualification in the language, check this out before you enrol, as not all part-time classes lead to official qualifications.
Private tuition is more expensive, although if two of you attend together the fee will probably be considerably less than double that for a single student. It may take place in your own home, or you may be asked to travel to the tutor's home. One advantage is that you can choose the day and time that suits you best. Another advantage is that your tutor should be open to discussing your particular needs: do you just want to converse, or are reading and writing equally important to you? Do you want to study grammar, do you prefer to follow the 'communicative' approach, or do you need a combination of the two? If you are having weekly sessions, you need to be able to find time to go over what you have learned during the week. Half an hour every day will probably benefit you more than a two or three hour swot at the weekend. If you aren't strict with yourself over this, your progress is likely to be slow.
If you do decide to take up the challenge of studying on you own, their are plenty of books, CDs, tapes and a few DVDs to choose from. I know that the Michel Thomas CDs are immensely popular, but I think they have their limitations. I can't imagine, for instance, learning a language without seeing it written down. I lived in an Arabic-speaking country and had to write down Arabic words phonetically so that I could remember them, until I learned the Arabic alphabet. As far as French is concerned, there are so many silent letters that it would be difficult to imagine how some words are spelled just from hearing them. When you travel to France, even as a tourist, you will need to be able to read menus, food labels, road signs, notices of many kinds; you therefore need a thorough knowledge of both the written and spoken language.
I would recommend following a course such as the BBC's French Experience, Books 1 and 2, with accompanying CDs. These give plenty of practice in speaking, listening, reading and writing. There are tapescripts at the back of each book to help you if you initially find it difficult to understand the listening exercises. Topics include travel, food, families, living accommodation, money, and leisure activities. The speakers on the CDs include French nationals as well as people from Ivory Coast and Tunisia, for example.
Some people find that this type of coursebook does not concentrate enough on grammar. Try not to shy away from grammar - it gives you the building blocks with which to construct your own sentences. A book such as La Grammaire en Clair (available on Amazon, and I believe there is a German equivalent) can give you plenty of extra grammar practice. This particular book has an element of humour to try to engage the learner. It includes explanations, exercises of varying degrees of difficulty, and cartoons that give examples of each grammar point in use. Schaum's Outlines of French Grammar is another excellent book that delves into all the finer points and gives exercises. Unfortunately there are no answers at the back.
One frequent stumbling block is that learners of a foreign language seem to expect it to 'work' in exactly the same way as English. You need to be prepared for different ways of expressing ideas, different word order, all nouns having masculine and feminine gender, and all sorts of irregularities. Don't expect word-for-word equivalents of English, and try not to take the attitude that English is 'right' and the other language is odd if it doesn't follow our patterns!
Perhaps the most important point is to realise that learning a language does take a long time. Don't give up too easily - persevere, the rewards are worth it.
Learning a foreign language
At school I studied French and German, neither of them being my best subjects and I certainly wasnt the best student. I found the formal and rigid teaching methods of my teachers didnt work for me. Since leaving school and entering the big wide world Ive learnt Spanish and Thai as well as picking up bits of various languages. The best way to learn a language in my opinion is to experience it, to live in a country that speaks that language, too surround yourself in the language.
With Spanish I did a short evening course before travelling to South America for 3 months, the language course gave my a basic understanding of the language but having to use it each and every day for 3 months was the way I learnt.
Before heading to Thailand I didnt even do a language course, just picked up a pocket guidebook. After a few weeks I was able to hold conservation in the language, in this case I was living with a Thai family and working in a Thai school, teaching English, in a small rural village where very few people spoke English. I didnt manage to master reading or writing in Thai script but I could understand a lot and make myself understood without too many hand signals!
Definitely the best way to learn a language is too surround yourself with the language, and immerse yourself in it.
To learn another language, a second tongue, is a goal of many people however once you begin you start to realise just how complex this is. The study of German is a much simpler affair for English people than an unrelated language such as Japanese or American - ha ha, little joke there, I don't know what I mean - but once you start getting assessed on the matter it becomes something of a burden to get it all in the head. I've been learning German for over six years now in secondary school, although to be fair two of these years were basically wasted doing crosswords and watching stupid computer-animated videos of people buying Bon Jovi CDs, and was all summed up in three lessons when GCSEs began. GCSE level required the pupil to be fluent to a degree, to use complicated sentences- using "weil" to mean "because" is always a good one because it sends the verb to the end and you can look a bit more clever- as well as proper use of the past tenses, that's perfect and imperfect, and the present. This may seem a little heavy-going but my school had great teachers and besides, there were two years to cover it all in over four lessons a week. The most embarrassing part of GCSE was that the student was required to record a tape of German at home which would be assessed by some examiner somewhere, although the final exams were the usual writing; reading & listening; and speaking, a conversation with the teacher in a deceptively homely room. The easiest part of the course was certainly the coursework which only needed to be very brief and could be cross-examined aplenty, and I was very satisfied when I came out with an A grade at the end of GCSEs- my teacher later told me that I was only one point off an A star but that's alright because I wasn't one of those ki
ds who got money for their A stars anyway. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------ --------------------------- After a lot of thinking, I decided to carry German on to A-level, and after the AS year I'm currently studying it for A2. The course is a lot harder: For a start, one of the best German teachers has left, leaving only the lady, who is good, and the other man, who is rubbish. This also makes the lessons much more of a chore to go to on Monday afternoons and Wednesday mornings, especially as the majority of the four-person class decides that an hour of drinking at home is preferable to an hour in the fittingly-dark and depressing Deutsch room. Before I lose too much perspective, the A-level course is considerably harder than the GCSE one and this time that's actually true. Along with the existing tenses, new ones suddenly spring up all over the place and there are an increasing number of conjunctions, pronouns, verbs and everything else that suddenly make it very hard to write anything down at all. My mind hasn't been on the lesson completely for the last couple of months, mainly because of the change in teacher, and as such it's very hard to try and get all of this new German into my head. So I suppose revision over these next two months is essential! And I'll have to spend time talking to the scary and smelly German assistant. That isn't a racial stereotype by any means, it's just her. I would recommend study of another language to anyone who's interested, but if you expect to become fluent then it is a LOT of work, probably more than you'd expect. German is a good choice as, although it's not very widely spoken outside Deutschland, most words and phrases are similar enough to ease
the burden a little. I can't really offer any starting phrases or words both because I have some German coursework to get on with, and it's early in the morning for all that stuff! It would be great to be fluent in a number of languages, and I've heard that a lot of jobs can pay up to £10,000 more per year to someone fluent in a foreign language, however the workload suddenly seems very strenuous, or "schwierig," once you open your book at home and there's no one explaining it to you. Oh yes, and it's very satisfying when you feel you've begun to master certain aspects; something that happens far less frequently now there's the sentence sructure to follow. I'm sure I never used to use that and got awarded A's, makes you wonder whether it's the "real truth" I'm learning now. The school, and obviously a large number of others across the country, has offered annual visits to Germany which are becoming more insane in prices all the time- £180 when I was in Year 7 and now around £300, but I managed to get a free ride last year as one of two Sixth Form 'assistants' on the Year 7 trip to Aachen, a nice place in Germany that I would recommend a large number of times over the depressing and grey Koblenz where we had stayed on previous excursions.
Do you remember languages at school? When you missed one accent or word, or pronounced something incorrectly you were wrong. WRONG, no arguments, end of story and no marks for that answer. I did GCSE French and German and though I was quite good, I hated them and that was mainly because of us having no error margin. So, what could possibly make me want to go back to school 12 years later and put myself through all that again? Well, the embarrassment of being British was the main reason. We are the most ignorant nation when it comes to languages, expecting everyone else to speak English. The final push came whilst snowboarding in France. I found myself about to buy paninis and translating their contents signs to my non French speaking friends, before ordering them in English! How crazy is that? And I realised, that although I had spent 5 years studying French, and have a Grade A GCSE to show for it, it was useless as I darenâ??t speak the language! I needed to do something about it so decided I was going to try learning languages again, and this time with Spanish. I had a look through our local college prospectus and found myself an OCN Spanish For Beginners Course at a school near where I live. I soon convinced a friend to join me and we enrolled to start this January. Come January, Monday night was a school night, of sorts: We have Spanish class from 7pm until 9pm with a 10 minute break at 8pm! The course costs Â£70 for 20 weeks (a 30 week course starting last September would have cost Â£106 each) and I think I got my moneyâ??s worth in the first 10 minutes when our teacher explained that the point of learning a language is to communicate. It doesnâ??t matter if itâ??s spelt wrong, pronounced wrong or in the wrong order so long as you can make yourself understood. With that once concept, she gave me the ability to make use of 5 years of French and 3 years of German, and thatâ??s before I even started to learn Spanish!
If you think about it, you must have had a foreigner wave a cigarette at you and ask you for â??Fire?â?? before. Itâ??s happened to me lots and although it was amusing to me, I knew they wanted a lighter and gave them one. There you go, proof that itâ??s just about making yourself understood. The class at the start of the year had about 30 pupils. Now, three months later I'd say there are only 15 or so regular attendees (which seems a bit crazy when you've paid for the course!). The course is held in a local secondary school in an ordinary classroom, which isn't too different from how I remember them, although I never had a TV and video in each classroom! The syllabus for the 20 week course contains two basic units: one that teaches you to talk about yourself and your family, and the second that covers finding and ordering in shops and restaurants. Assessment is mainly done informally during the class, most of the time you don't notice the teacher ticking you off for certain items. We also have to record a conversation to tape but that can be redone until you are happy with it. As well as the initial cost, we were also recommended to buy a Spanish dictionary and a course text book: BBC Espana Viva which is Â£11.99. It is helpful to have the books, not only for homework and revision, but also if you have to miss a class you can catch up at home. The BBC book also covers units which we wont cover in class so the studious can further their studies. We were also given a tape which has the basics on and supports the course. This is brilliant to help with pronunciation, particularly in traffic jams! So far I have been really enjoying Spanish. It's a very phonetic language which makes it easy to learn, and also once you have mastered the alphabet, you can sound quite convincingly Spanish. As well as that it's good for the soul to keep learning, and know your grey matter isn't going to waste! My upcom
ing visit to Venezuela later in the year will be the true test! watch this space...
I have been learning French for just about nine years (wow, is it really that long??!!, makes me sound so old!). When I first started it seemed like the most exciting thing I had learnt - I always went around at the age of seven saying that I wanted to learn French (I was imitating my mum!) and now at the age of nine, I finally had my chance! I was fed up of maths, science and English, I wanted to do something different, and I think that is was has attracted me to learn languages. Ever since I was very little I have wanted to travel all around the world, and I realised that I wouldn't be able to get the full potential out of travelling unless I at least learnt the culture or the language of the places I would visit. Now I have done my GCSE in French, and passed with a grade A. I will sit my French A-level this year and have been predicted a B. My upper school only offered French and German - I had never been too interested in German, although now I would like to go there. We didn't have the opportunity to learn Spanish, which I had been teaching myself since I was about 10, purely because I realised that I would love most of all to visit Spain and Latin America. I took my Spanish GCSE last year and got a grade A. I don't know whether it is my interest in travel and languages that has made me do well or my ability that has made me interested in them. I can't stand my French lessons - they're so tedious, but I stick with them because I know that to be fluent in French would seem like such a big achievement. What I can't stand is that people in the sixth form regard me as stupid and pointless because I chose to take French as an A-level. 'Why bother?' they ask, 'why don't you take a USEFUL subject like IT?' Well, I would like to work abroad, and there are so many job opportunities to those who take language as a degree - as I am going to do next year. People also believe that it's not worth it because so
many foreigners speak English. This is true, but not all of them. And anyway, it's pretty rude to go into someone else's country and expect them to speak your own language - we would all complain if a Frenchman came over here on holiday and refused to speak anything other than French, wouldn't we? For the past few months, I've been teaching my brother Jow and my friend Duncan to speak Spanish, because their aim is to go to Mexico to do aid work when they've finished university. I have found it quite hard to teach them, because I get frustrated when people know less than me. But it's worked out quite well, as they are both well motivated to do it, and I have been making end-less little sheets for them! It makes me happy that I can give a skill to someone else. For a few years I have been corresponding with a Catalan (Northern Spanish) girl called Meritxell. We started writing letters to each other, me in Spanish and her in English, and now we just send emails or chat on MSN all the time! I have also made friends with two Chilean sisters called Patty and Andrea, as a result of knowing how to speak Spanish. They only moved to England less than a year ago, with a limited knowledge of English, but now we are good friends, and I would never have met them if I hadn't learnt Spanish. Learning a foreign language to GCSE level is just about compulsory in my school, because they want to become a language college, but it is one of the least popular. The opinion of my language teachers is that students shouldn't have to do a language if they didn't want to, and I agree with this. You can't effectively learn anything if you don't have any interest in it - the students would be much better of doing something they were good at, such as IT or art. It is just wasting the teachers and their time as the average GCSE result in this country is an E. My advice to anyone looking to learn a language is that
if it is your first foreign language then you should get a teacher, whether professional or informal. The first language is always the most difficult, because you need to learn about didn't areas of grammar that you'd never have thought of before. I wouldn't recommend doing a speaking and listening only course, as some are offered. You will find that you will be illiterate in your chosen language, and personally I am quite a visual person, and I like to see how a word is spelt before I can understand it properly. Learning a second or even third language is much easier, because you understand why you have to use particular tenses or word forms. Next year hopefully I'm going to study Italian and Philosophy at university. I want to actually be taught Italian because then I will have the confidence that if I get stuck then I will always have someone there to help me. In conclusion, I would only really recommend language learning to those who are interested rather than those who feel that they HAVE to do it, you will succeed so much better.
(Note: the June 22 update is merely for a couple of typos - there's no substatial new material here.) My family is what you might call a multilingual one. My dad is a French teacher who also speaks a good deal of Spanish, GCSE-level German and a smattering of Italian, and from time to time tries his hand at Sanskrit (which is a handy language for philologists - those who study the history of languages - as it's an ancient Indo-European tongue). My mum has a degree in zoology, so has to keep up her Latin, and her school report once said she was "beginning to enjoy Homer in the original". (She'll kill me for saying that!) My late grandpa picked up a reasonable amount of Urdu when posted to India during the war, and bits and pieces of various African languages from his later work for the British Council. It was from him that I obtained an (unintentionally) hilarious Swahili phrasebook, extracts from which await anyone with enough stamina to complete this op! Oh yes, my granny used to teach English to Chinese people too. So, there I was, with just an A Level in French and a GCSE in German, feeling somewhat overshadowed. I'd show 'em, though: I'd learn a language that none of them knew at all, so that I could swan about the place looking smug. I was about to start a job in Wrexham at the time, so the obvious choice was Welsh, particularly as at the time I understood that I had Welsh ancestry (in fact, the ancestor in question was born in Toxteth, Liverpool...). The first thing to note about learning Welsh is that it's quite different in approach from learning French or Russian or Japanese. For one thing, it's very unlikely (unless you're talking to very young children) that you'll come across any Welsh people who don't speak English. Any who claim to be monoglot Welsh speakers are probably making a political stand rather than telling the whole truth, and could quite easily converse in Engli
sh if so they wished; they just don't feel like it. As with many things, though, it's not as easy as that. Not surprisingly, if you're aiming to become a teacher in an Ysgol Gymraeg (Welsh-language school), you have to know the language well, but actually quite a wide range of occupations now expect some degree of fluency, primarily those in the public services, which are affected by the Welsh Language Act 1993. You're very unlikely to get a job as a local government officer in Conwy or a librarian in Pwllheli unless you're able to speak both Welsh and English easily. That doesn't mean only native speakers can get the jobs, though: in many cases English speakers are granted dispensation, provided - and this is usually a contractual requirement - they commit themselves to achieving fluency within two years. Okay then, you've decided that you want to learn Welsh. Good choice. But how should you go about it? Well, what's good for the goose may not be good for the gander, so it's not all that easy to give a definite answer to that. If you're a gifted toddler reading all this at the ripe old age of two, then you've got a sizeable head-start on the rest of us - it's far, far easier for a young child to learn a new language than for the rest of us senior citizens (say, anyone over eight...). And as you would expect, it's a great deal easier if you actually live in Wales, as there's oodles of help available there that just doesn't exist on the English side of the border (a good example is Mudiad Ysgolion Meithrin - an extremely successful nursery schools movement). Even so, things in England aren't as hopeless as you might think. (More on this later on.) A major, and obvious, difficulty when it comes to learning Welsh in England is the lack of opportunities to speak the language to native speakers. It's generally accepted that this is the optimum way to learn a new language, and
broadly I agree - although I do worry a bit about learning English from certain English people I hear! With this advice in mind, then, you decide to dash off on a couple of day trips to Rhyl (though to be frank Scouse is a more widely spoken language there...), encouraged by the introduction to your battered copy of Teach Yourself Welsh: "It cannot be too strongly urged that the way to learn the language is to use it. When ... you have learnt Bore da (Good morning), say it to the first person you meet who can speak Welsh. Your reward will be the satisfaction of having made the first serious step towards learning the language". Well, yes, all very admirable in principle I must say, but if we might allow the real world to intrude on our theoretical idyll for just a moment... your reward in reality may well be rather different. Some thoughts on this: 1) Just how are you supposed to work out whether that "first person you meet" is able to speak Welsh at all? Presumably you are supposed to come out with something like: "Good morrow, my good fellow; I wonder if you could tell me whether you are cognisant of the Welsh tongue, as I wish to say 'bore da' to you"? It's more than likely that your acquaintance will prove to be someone from England (or, worse still, Monmouthshire) who can't speak a word of the language. (And frankly if you call him "my good fellow" you deserve anything you get anyway...) 2) They might respond with a stream of fast, fluent, highly colloquial Welsh. I suppose this could be taken as a compliment to your accuracy, but you're going to look a complete idiot if all you can say in return is "er... I'm sorry, I don't speak Welsh". The other party is more than likely to wonder why, in that case, you were making out that you could. 3) Perhaps the other person *can* speak Welsh, but decides to reply to you in English. This is probab
ly the single most demoralising thing that can happen, and it can really set you back. In the vast majority of cases, the other person is really trying to help you, but very occasionally it's just spitefulness. If this happens to you, I recommend continuing the conversation in fluent Faeroese or Navajo - just to annoy them. This might be considered the flip-side of the situation when the regulars in a pub suddenly switch to Welsh when a "sais" (Englishman) appears - it sounds a bit "League of Gentlemen", and it's not at all common, but I've seen it happen. 4) Language snobbery, regrettably, does still exist in parts of Wales, and it works in both directions: sometimes people will look down their nose at you because you can't speak Welsh absolutely perfectly; but on other occasions they might get uppity at an interloper trying to "barge into their life". The latter occurrence is, happily, getting less common by the day, but you will still encounter it, especially in remoter parts of the north away from tourist traps. Having ploughed through all that lot, you may well deduce (correctly) that a rather different approach is called for if you are to get anywhere fast, and happily there are many such. The coming of the internet has made things both easier and more difficult here: there are vast numbers of Welsh learning resources online, but a big chunk of them are worse than useless, for a multiplicity of reasons. To illustrate my point: I've come across: 1) Websites that use literary Welsh to teach the spoken language. Literary Welsh is a very worthwhile and interesting area of study - it's changed much less than literary English in the same period, so that the great Welsh epic, the Mabinogion, which dates from 1100 or so, is considerably easier to read for a Welsh person than Chaucer is to an English speaker. But the colloquial spoken tongue is another matter entirely. Can you imagine h
ow you would be perceived if you went around Tesco's talking Chaucerian English? Exactly. 2) Websites that use that magnificently futile hotch-potch, "Cymraeg Byw". This translates directly as "Living Welsh", which is ironic as no-one actually speaks it! It was brewed up as an intended "new standard Welsh" in the sixties, and was of no benefit at all, as the so-called "dialect" that it taught bore little resemblance to what was actually spoken. A very important rule of language teaching is: teach what *is*, not what you feel "ought" to be. 3) Websites written by Americans (mostly) who have never been any closer to Wales than Swansea, Mass. I found a page not so long ago written by a man in Oregon, which initially read as though the author knew what he was talking about... then he gravely divulged that he had never come across the construction "dw i ddim" for "I am not". This was ridiculous - I heard that exact phrase nearly every day in Wrexham, and that's not even much of a Welsh-speaking town! Right, having spent a fair amount of time complaining, I think we should get ourselves into a more positive frame of mind, eh? And it must be admitted that once you've filtered out the drivel, there is a moderate amount of useful material on the net which can help with your Welsh. A fine place to begin is the website of Acen (at http://www.acen.co.uk) - Acen, Welsh for "accent", is a project that grew out of S4C (Sianel Pedwar Cymru - Wales' bilingual equivalent to Channel 4) which is now a company in its own right, devoted to serving the interests of Welsh learners. If you get S4C (again, this is only for those in Wales unless you have digital satellite), take a look at the famous Welsh-language soap "Pobol Y Cwm" (People of the Valley) and tap in page 889 on Teletext - you'll be given a simplified transcript of what's going on, all
owing you to get a feel for what some of the more obscure idioms (of which Welsh has thousands) actually mean. <br> The Acen service that's liable to be of most interest to learners is the fairly lengthy catalogue of courses (http://www.acen.co.uk/courses/index.html), all of which are in Wales (mostly in the south), though you don't have to be Welsh to sign up. They offer courses for various degrees of competence in the language, including intensive courses where you eat, drink and sleep Welsh exclusively for a week or so. I've never yet had the time and money to take one of these courses (something I regret), but those I know who have done so generally say they're well worthwhile. Fascinating fact: Prince Charles took an Acen course to bone up on his Welsh before his Investiture as Prince of Wales in 1969. Another course I like (though it must be said that some people don't like its methodology) is BBC Wales' Catchphrase programme: http://www.bbc.co.uk/wales/catchphrase/catchphrase1/ is the place beginners should bookmark. This is the online version of a long-running series broadcast throughout the year on BBC Radio Wales (882KHz MW seems to give the clearest signal from western England) - and once you've heard it, it will live long in the memory. Its bouncy theme tune is a genuine kitsch classic, and no-one who hears it can ever forget that exhilarating opening exchange: "Shwmae [all right] Nigel! Shwmae Cennard!" Thanks to the wonders of the steam internet, you too can experience it in your own... whatever. All the lessons are available free in RealAudio format, and the quality is very clear. In Catchphrase 1, Cennard Davies, who has become a bit of a celebrity thanks to his distinctive stern-but-fair style, along with Ann M Jones and Basil Davies (no relation to Cennard) are the presenters trying, and with some success, to knock some Welsh into Nigel Walker. Yes, that Nigel Walker, the rugby p
layer. The reason Catchphrase has three presenters is to give listeners experience not only in listening to varying voices, but in various dialects of Welsh. There's a moderately obvious, though (thanks largely to modern mass media) decreasing, north-south difference, which goes beyond accent (for example, "Meic has a car" would be "Mae gan Meic gar" in northern Wales, but "Mae car [gy]da Meic" in the south. If you're sharp-eyed (and of course all DYers are!), you'll have that I've mis-spelt "car" in one of the phrases above. Gotcha, you think - typo alert! Sorry, but you're wrong - this is where we come up against that most horrible of Celtic grammatical constructions, the <scary music, maestro, please> *mutation*! Those who know German will be aware of the equally dreaded adjectival endings in that language... which, of course, are in many cases mumbled or even ignored completely by native German speakers. Welsh mutations are much the same thing, except that a) they're at the start of the word, which makes using dictionaries tricky; and b) it isn't just adjectives that are affected - there's a colossal list of rules to memorise about when and where to use them... and again, most natives largely ignore it. I'm sorry to disappoint those who are hoping for an in-depth treatment of the subject here, but this op is long enough already - I really am not going to start explaining all the ins and outs of mutations here. To go on with, here's a basic table of what happens when, plus a very short and incomplete introductory paragraph, which will either give you a general idea or (more likely) confuse you beyond belief... Inital letter ("radical") - Soft mutation - Nasal mutation - Aspirate mutation ======================================================== C - G - Ngh - Ch P - B - Mh - Ph T - D - Nh - TH G - * - Ng - / B
- F - M - / D - Dd - N - / M - F - / - / Ll - L - / - / Rh - R - / - / / = no mutation; * = remove the initial "g", eg "gardd" (garden) becomes "yr ardd" (the garden). In this case, the noun undergoes soft mutation because it comes directly after "y", which means "the". Well, "yr", in fact - the "r" is added for easier pronunciation, in much the same way as "a" becomes "an" before a vowel in English. There are any number of exceptions (what did you expect?) - to say "in Welsh" you don't say "yn Cymraeg", but "yn Gymraeg". This is because there is an implied "y" in between "yn" and "Gymraeg" which causes a soft mutation, even though it doesn't actually appear in modern Welsh. And "in Wales" is "yng Nghymru", because this construction triggers a nasal mutation. But "in Colchester" is just "yn Colchester", as non-Welsh words (and all personal names) don't mutate at all. There are, as I say, lots of exceptions to these rules, and native Welsh speakers often just shove a soft mutation onto everything. That's the trouble with languages - native speakers can get away with murder, while we poor learners have to get everything correct! Right, who's for a "mutations are fun!" badge? And oh, before I forget... Ng, like Ch, Th, Ll, Dd and Rh, is a letter in its own right in the Welsh alphabet - but don't go looking for it in the dictionary after N. It comes after G. Thought you'd enjoy that, so we'll now move on to conjugated prepositions... oh, all right, I do have a heart. Let's change the subject. Books. It's a good bet that you're going to use them a fair amount, unless you have Welsh-speaking friends who are *very* tolerant, or live next to the location of the National Eisteddfod. As w
e're on the subject, the National Eisteddfod is a salute to Welsh culture and language - the grounds are exclusively Welsh-language, though there is a "learners' tent", and honours (crowns, chairs etc) are given for achievement in tremendously obscure types of poetry that about seven people in the world understand. You might think of it as a Fermat's Last Theorem convention for Welsh types. There are also contests for more conventional art forms, but the high flyers tend to look down at these, largely because ordinary plebs can actually understand what the hell is going on. If you can, try to catch a glimpse of the Eisteddfod coverage on S4C - it's like nothing else. But I digress. I was meant to be telling you about books. Acen themselves produce a respectable range, but my favourites hail from a little company by the name of Y Lolfa (http://www.ylolfa.com), who sell a very wide range of books and cassettes catering to all levels of ambition. The book of theirs which I treasure most is Heini Gruffudd's terrific "Welcome to Welsh", which is advertised as being for "the more ambitious learner". It's a fifteen-part course with some hilarious (and, I'd better warn you, fairly near the knuckle - this one's not for young kids) photo-strips forming the heart of each section. It's only about five pounds, too, which makes it an unmissable bargain. "Welcome to Welsh" is a wonderful contrast to the dry-as-dust stuff we see all too often which turns people off Welsh almost immediately. As Gruffudd says in the title of another of her books, Welsh is Fun! Of course, we must give a mention to the esteemed "Teach Yourself" series. You need to be careful when obtaining Teach Yourself Welsh, as the 1977 edition, which is still fairly widespread in libraries and second-hand bookshops, uses the now discredited "Cymraeg Byw" (referred to above). The 2000 edition (by Chris
tine Jones and Julie Brake) is the one to go for, though the previous edition (Rhys Jones, 1992) is still quite useable. Holes can be picked in the book, of course (the coverage of the inflected future isn't all that hot), but certainly it's preferable to see a dialogue about village banking facilities than one about gardens of one's uncle and pens of one's aunt.... Grammar. Don't talk to me about grammar. Loathe it or ignore it, you can't like it. I think I ought to tell you, though, that even if you are feeling very depressed, it's something you're just going to have to put up with. Welsh, one might fairly observe, does not have the simplest grammatical structure the world has ever seen, and so a good guide is essential. Thankfully, salvation is at hand in the reassuring form of Gareth King, a man who has - with good cause - acquired a reputation for clarity and common sense - you won't find daft constructions such as "bws a thacsi" here. (It means "[a] bus and [a] taxi", but the aspirate mutation on a "t" is practically never used in colloquial speech - everyone says "bws a tacsi"). King's grammar workbooks "Basic Welsh" and "Intermediate Welsh", and more especially his comprehensive guide "Modern Welsh" (all published by Routledge - the grammar is around £20) are extraordinarily valuable reference tools for learners - and, indeed, for more advanced speakers as well. Before I go, I should tell you not to undervalue the "passive learning" you can do simply by letting the language wash over you. Go to Wales, and use the Welsh-language parts of the bilingual signposts to get around. (You might have to if Cymdeithas yr Iaith have been spray-painting out the English again!) Listen to Radio Cymru (~104MHz FM - is the mad "Jonesy yn y P'nawn" [Jonesy in the afternoon] still there?). Sit in a library in a Welsh-speaking
area, and eavesdrop on the librarians handling enquiries. Read the Welsh-language notices posted outside community centres and the like. Buy one of the local "papurau bro" (community newspapers). And so on and so forth. Give yourself a pat on the back if you've made it this far. As a reward, I'll leave you with the single most useful expression you will ever learn: "Esgusodwch fi, dw i ddim yn gallu siarad Cymraeg yn dda iawn". One guess what this means. That's right: "Excuse me, I don't speak Welsh very well"! (25th June '02): And never a true word was spoken - I've just had it pointed out to me - very politely - that it was sitting here for months with the wrong words in! (I originally put "esgusodi" and "Gymraeg" - twt, twt! ================= Jambo [Hello]! It's time to learn some Upcountry Swahili! These are genuine, unedited phrases from the book I mentioned right at the top of the op, which was published in Mombassa in 1957, and - I'll have you know - approved by the East African Swahili Committee, no less! (Oh, and to those who remember my Ciao op on this subject, these phrases are all different!) Twahitaji makaa leo kwa pasi - We need charcoal for the iron today. Nataka ulete ndimi nne za kondoo - I want you to bring me four sheep's tongues. Lete uma wa kutobolea matundu katika ubao huu - Bring me an awl to bore holes in this board. Usiteme mate huku - Do not expectorate about here. =================
There is only one way to learn a foreign language if you are not able to move to that country. Watch as much television in the language as possible! You DO need the essential grammar and basic vocab lessons, but the best and most fun way to progress from boring grammar exercises to anything nearing fluency is to immerse yourself in the language through television. All language teachers will sneer at any film that has been dubbed, but according to my experience these actually teach you more (and are often more enjoyable!). They say you should only watch films in the original language. And yes dubbing is horrible; watching the actors lips move completely out of sequence from the speech, but let me say it is worth getting used to! I am currently learning yet another language at University and this time round I have discovered a wonderful new invention...the DVD! These must have been designed for language students! Most of the first DVDs were produced with multi-lingual soundtracks. This way I can learn Italian, whilst keeping up with German and French, and if I'm feeling lazy or stressed I can just switch it back to English. However the latest DVDs are unfortunately mostly English language only. But there are a lot out there if you look. Here's how to do it. Think of your favourite film genre, BUT it has to be something you are willing to watch over and over and OVER again! (This is when the learning happens!) Then watch it. Watch it over and over and you will find you'll understand a little more each time. You need to train your brain to the rhythm and the speed of the language. You don't even need to be glued to the screen, most of my DVDs I've watched so often, I tend to do other things at the same time and have it running in the background. That way I can absorb the language whilst doing everyday boring tasks. I wouldn't recommend the use of the subtitles, although there is also an impressive selection of language
s, as they distract from listening to the language. However they are quite handy if you get completely stuck! So after all that here is a short list of DVDs I recommend for learning Italian and other languages: Return to Me A wonderfully romantic film starring David Duchovny (Mulder!) and Minnie Driver Languages on DVD: English, French, German, Spanish, and Italian Only You Yet another romance with beautiful Italian scenery Languages: English, French, German, Spanish, and Italian Father of the Bride and Father of the Bride 2 Don't tell me you've never seen either! Basically the same happens in the second as in the first, but they are both lovely and worth watching for the languages Languages: English, French and Italian City of Angels I know, I know another romance, but they are the easiest to watch over and over! Starring Nicholas Cage and Meg Ryan Languages: English, French and Italian Romy and Michele's High School Reunion Very cheesy Clueless-style comedy staring Lisa Kudrow (Phoebe from Friends!) and Mira Sorvino Languages: English, Italian and French (Canadian) The Sixth Sense Spooky film about a boy (Haley Joel Osment) who 'sees dead people'. Also staring Bruce Willis (yum!) Languages: English and Italian A Fish called Wanda Comedy classic with John Cleese, Jamie Lee Curtis, Kevin Kline and Michael Palin. Languages: English, French, German, Spanish, and Italian Good luck and happy watching!