Showing posts with label language learning. Show all posts
Showing posts with label language learning. Show all posts

Friday, 25 January 2019

I began three days ago

Monopoli in summer. Next time I am here, what will I be able to say?

I have been learning French for a long time and despite thinking that choosing maths as one of my Uni majors (maths and French) was wise given the dearth of maths teachers at the time that I graduated, it has always been the French that has got me the next job, onto the next adventure, living in the next place and meeting new people. I am competent in French, there is no doubt, but I continue to learn, and enjoy my language learning, every day.

My methods are tried and true - watching the French news (a whole lot easier now given that I can replay episodes on my computer, phone or television at any time), getting French email alerts (franceinfo) day and night, reading in French (a random choice of whatever I can lay my hands on from the libraries), communicating with my French friends (I never did think that Instagram and Facebook would work for me but they have proved me wrong) and being alert to any and all expressions, discussions and articles that would make my language more correct, more colloquial, more authentic. I also continue to speak French to my son, which keeps me on my toes but has become such a habit that I'm not sure we'll ever change our ways.

I have loved my role as a French teacher (no, I am not writing a cover letter although re-reading this it looks that way) and this too has continued to reinforce my own skills.

So, becoming a learner of a new language is exciting, but strangely disconcerting. I know how far I have to go, I know how much time and passion I will have to dedicate to my learning and, if I am honest, I am slightly trepidatious that it will impact my French (change my accent, interfere with my fluency) even though I know exactly what I would respond to someone voicing this fear to me.

In my last blog, I recounted the linguistic surprise that I received at the Italian Consulate, which resulted in me having to take a much quicker journey to speaking Italian than I was expecting.

I began three days ago...

by heading over to Duolingo. My teaching sensors were on high alert from the very beginning...why was I being taught this, what could the pattern be that I was being exposed to by repetition, would I learn which word needed il and which la without a list of masculine and feminine nouns by my side, would the lack of grammatical explanations hinder or help my progress...? It is so very different from the classroom text books which mostly start with simple greetings and progress so very slowly. In the first five minutes of Duolingo I was writing, repeating and putting together sentences.

I then headed to Babbel. Just the faffing around with setting up the microphone was a hint that it was not going to be the right fit for me, but confirmed when I was made to repeat Grazie, Ciao and Buona notte over and again in the same time that I had put together Io mangio il pane (I am eating the bread) on Duolingo. But, this is not to knock Babbel. I suspect that the rapid introduction of new words and grammatical ideas (without them being explained explicitly) over on Duolingo would be off-putting to many complete beginners.

Some of what I have completed so far: 

conjugation of parts of a few verbs (eat, cut, drink, be...but I don't yet know the infinitives), introduction to a couple of prepositions (nel, ai), making a sentence negative with a single word 'non' (in French you need two words), not noticing initially that 'no' and 'non' were different and used differently ('no' when you mean 'No' and 'non' to make a sentence negative), the use of gli (not i) to make an article plural when you have a noun beginning with a vowel (eg gli uccelli), the pronunciation of the 'c' in forchetta (not ch), discovering that some words are great fun to say (cuochi, bicchieri, burro, aglio), finding that my ear is not tuned into the difference between il and un when said quickly in the middle of a sentence and using il (French) for he (instead of lui) and wanting to pronounce un as I would in French...

Fingers crossed I can keep it up... what if this were just the universe's way of letting me know that my next adventure will be more verde, biancho e rosso  than bleu, blanc, rouge?

PS I love the photo of my son and I, which seemed to fit today's blog ... in Italy and reaching up, up, up.

Wednesday, 23 January 2019

Io scrivo un libro and other linguistic tales

Io scrivo un libro ... I am writing a book.

No, this is not an announcement or something that I've been keeping from you. I have to learn Italian - and not just a few random words, or sentences that will get me a shot of coffee in the morning.

Let me hasten to add that this was always my intention BUT it would have been nice to have been forewarned before I spent hours preparing my application, paying copious amounts of money getting all manner of certificates and having them apostilled and translated, filling in forms and then paying even more money into foreign bank accounts that a B1-level language test would be mandatory before I could be granted Italian citizenship. Was this information anywhere to be found on the website detailing the process? No. When did this new rule come into play? Early January ... this year!

So, just for good measure...

Io mangio una mela - no, actually I am not eating an apple, but I am pretty happy with that phrase


Io sono una donna - but a pretty worn out one at that after this latest revelation.

We did have some success, though, at the Italian Consulate Offices this morning where I was greeted with this new linguistic challenge - four new Italian passports for my husband and children.

It takes me back ten years to the very up-and-down period before our departure for France. Re-reading the small excerpt from 'But you are in France, Madame' (below) never fails to make me want that all over again. The busyness, the tiredness, the trepidation, the worry that our passports wouldn't come through on time or that we wouldn't have enough money, the awareness that I would need to step up as the only real French speaker, the uncertainty over housing, schooling, work ... I'd take all of that again in a heartbeat knowing what I know now. If you are even semi-seriously contemplating a family adventure like ours, do it ... just do it. And, if you are hesitating and need someone to bounce ideas off, send me a message. I'm always very happy to help.

The final weeks before setting off disappeared in an exhausting madness of attempting to keep the lives of our children relatively normal, while completing the ever-expanding list of things to do. The children themselves, aged at that stage 6, 9 and 12, were in a blissful state of incomprehension about their future in a far-away, friendless, non-English-speaking environment and caught up in the excitement of having unusually indulgent parents—both of whom were constantly behaving rather erratically, forgetting to put them to bed or into the bath, and saying weird, unheard-of things like, “Help yourselves to whatever you’d like in the pantry”. And then distractedly, “Certainly”, to their quizzically opportunistic, “Including the lollies?” follow-through.

Even the full shelf of lollies, left over from the interminable round of ‘parties with party bags’ that the children had attended, was fair game. Surprisingly, my furtive nightly raids on their bags had not contributed to a significant reduction in the mountain of Minties, Smarties and chocolate bars. The children were obligingly happy to help change that and equally as happy to have packets of chips or spaghetti out of a can for dinner, with an ice cream chaser for dessert. How lucky it was that I could escape the healthy-eating, good-parenting critics, as it all took place in complete anonymity.

Our arrival in Geneva - after years and years of planning.

PS I'm not a McDonald's fan, but the billboard next to the bus stop, on the way home, was an emphatic full stop to the whole morning's linguistic story. 

"Cheese burger, anyone?"
"Quelqu'un veut un burger au fromage?"

Hmm, now what might that be in Italian?

And, why, you might ask, am I even going down this Italian passport route? One unfriendly-to-me word - Brexit.

Monday, 27 August 2018

Earn more learning a second language

It's human nature. A good headline grabs our attention.

Take the following...

Why did Personality X have to leave her high-paying job on  (insert name of show)? 

Me pretending to be scandal-pursued Personality X

Oooh...Scandal? Intrigue? No, just foolishness on my part to have been conned into clicking on the article, as it was an ad, pure and simple, for a new product that Personality X was selling.

Is this what I've done to you today? No doubt my blog stats will give me a partial answer. Perhaps this is what we need to do to our secondary students to improve the startlingly low (and declining) numbers studying a second language in Australia? I'm willing to give it a go, but I suspect that they are way too savvy - and also, given that the anniversary of the death of Francoise Dolto has just passed and debate has once again sprung up about the 'enfant roi' in our recent parenting strategies, they may not be at all inclined to take what they may consider as an unnecessary, hard road ahead ..."I only need English. The whole world speaks English", I hear them say.

Hold on a minute. Give me a chance to convince you. Consider the new improved language-learning you* who can

  • tune out noise more easily
  • see things with a different perspective
  • make sharper judgement calls
  • have a better memory
  • focus better in a crowd
  • have improved mental well-being
  • be a better problem solver
  • have superior listening skills
  • multitask masterfully


... wait for can EARN MORE MONEY.

Plus, my dear teenagers, these benefits are for life - they don't just evaporate as quickly as the proud glow of making it through your final school exams; they may actually provide you with resistance to the onset of Alzheimer's or dementia. OK, that as a clincher is probably not going to work.

I had a blog post going round and round in my head last night. Eventually, in order to get some sleep, I had to get up and jot down some notes. It was vaguely centred around the differences between French and Australian education, and was probably prompted by my son's enthusiastic description of his last Friday's Maths class. (Haha says the teacher in me, the choice of Friday afternoon was not a coincidence.)

His class had been taken to the sports oval where, along with another class, they had been asked to make a straight line. Then, representing an angle corresponding to their position in the line (my son was number 66), they were to work out the sine of their particular angle and walk to this spot along an imaginary y-axis. A lovely flowing sine curve (and the possibility that he will remember the value of sin 66 for a long time) was the result. Woohoo - a great lesson from his perspective. Why? Because it was physical and visual but also different and communal.

How, though, did my son's description of his Maths class lead me to thinking about language learning? Some might argue that most things do. The thing is that headline-grabbing subject descriptors, or promises of future success are not enough to convince high-school students that they should take a particular subject. No doubt, the bells and whistles do help, but a teacher (like my son's Maths teacher on Friday) who is not only knowledgeable, but passionate, motivating and inspired to change things around according to the particular group of students that she or he has is, for me, the biggest factor in student success.

And this is where I am brought back to France and French education; it is true that language learning there is viewed as a significant plus and, from my admittedly limited experience, the expected level of the foreign languages taught is high (and higher than in Australia), but the students remain lacking in confidence and the teaching is often rigid and uncompromising.

Imagine if, in Australia, we could find some of the discipline (subject matter) attention and importance attributed to languages as per the French approach to language learning and if, in France, the language classes could be more exciting, student-centred and communicatively (less grammatically) oriented.

Who knows, we might then be speaking each other's languages.

* full article here   

PS  For more, take a look at this TED talk (where language changes your perspective)

*** I wrote about our family's French adventure in 'But you are in France, Madame',  click on the following link for a Kindle  or a print copy