Posts Tagged ‘languages’

I have enjoyed learning new languages since i started secondary school. I feel like I was very monolingual and a bit close-minded until I discovered that other languages exist and that it is possible to communicate with those who speak them.

I now love learning new languages and learning about the culture and history related to them, and I have even read translated novels, and attempted to read novels in their native language.

When I went to university and decided to study English Literature, I decided to study it jointly with English Language in a bid to learn more about my mother-language.  Through learning the history of English and all the little things that make it the global language that it is today, I realise how easy we native English-speakers have it. The rest of the world seems to want to learn English in order to feel more Western, and to communicate with and do business with the West. I appreciate that English is bizarre to those who are learning it, especially with our crazy spellings with seemingly pointless silent letters and different stresses on certain syllables, and the weird sounds like “th”, and maybe we have made it difficult for others to learn. English has gone through many changes over the years since its beginnings, with new words added through numerous invasions of the UK by the Vikings, the French, the Romans and so on, and several attempts to standardise it. Many words have fallen by the wayside and new ones have replaced them and through these we discover just how complicated English is.

When you think how every language has developed over time, then you realise just how little we know of the languages of the world.

Just learning a few words of a different language, and learning about the culture behind it, is enough to make you appreciate your own language more. When I struggle with pronunciation and spelling, I remember that others struggle to learn English in the same way.

Some languages are infinitely easier to pick up than others, especially if it’s from a similar language family: for example, English is close to French and Spanish on one side and to German on the other. Therefore, I find it easy to pick up these languages. Then there are the really hard ones like Arabic and Chinese, with a whole new alphabet and sounds and words. I struggle with Arabic but I found that I understood it much better once I could understand a few letters or words.

Many people don’t want to learn another language because they think everyone can speak English to some level, what with a lot of the internet being in English and English being such a global language. But if everyone spoke English, then the world would be very boring. People appreciate it if you learn a bit of their language and try to use it to speak to them, and it makes you much more open-minded and willing to learn more about a country through learning their language.

When I was studying English at university, I researched and wrote essays on how languages affect people in a country: for example, I looked at how Finland used to have Swedish as its official language for years under Sweden’s rule until Finnish was instated as the country’s main language. I also looked at the levels of language learning in Australia which is still very English-orientated, despite being closer to countries like China, and not many people learn to speak a foreign language even with most of its citizens being immigrants from countries all over the world. And America is one country where people don’t really learn other languages. It is a large continent with a huge variation of climates and cultures between its states, so there isn’t a huge need to travel abroad when you could just spend your life exploring the massive land that is the USA. Therefore there isn’t such a huge need to learn languages unless you need to travel the world. Maybe I’m being unfair on the US, but despite the many immigrants who went there, they still speak English as their main language. The only variation is the larger Spanish-speaking population closer to the border with Mexico and Southern America.

With so many people learning English in the world, I do sometimes worry that we are losing some languages with fewer native speakers. The world is slowly becoming less varied when our cultures are blending into each other and many languages are being used less in favour of English. It seems kind of selfish expecting everyone to speak English and yet not bothering ourselves to learn their languages as well.

What do you think?

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I love languages! This is the second part of my posts about my relationship with languages.

University

As i mentioned in my previous post, i studied English Literature at university, so i know a lot about my native language already.

I did a module on TESOL (teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) and the first thing the tutor did was speak to us in one of her foreign languages, in this case it was Indonesian. I can’t remember anything she said, mainly because i had a mad panic at being addressed in a completely unfamiliar language! A good example of how people feel when they first learn a foreign language!

Arabic

I chose to study Arabic as an extra-curricular activity whilst at university, and i studied it for a semester because i wanted to learn something new. Arabic is a totally different language: not only is it from a different language family, it is read from right-to-left (instead of left-to-right like English, German and so on), letters of the alphabet change when you write them down in certain ways, and it is a cursive language. I got totally confused at times while studying Arabic! It is one of the hardest languages to learn because it has a different alphabet, which i spent hours trying to learn! I made reasonable progress with Arabic, although when the final exam came i completely stuffed it up and subsequently failed the class! Oops! To be fair, it was only a recreational class and not part of my degree, so it didn’t take priority when i had important essay deadlines and a dissertation due around the time of the final exam!

My Arabic skills consist of being able to say a few greetings and replies, and the odd word, but i can’t read Arabic and i have forgotten the letters of the alphabet, except for “al” which basically means “the”. I don’t have  much to show for that class! I do still have the Arabic learning CD set though, so i could attempt to learn it again!

Outside Academica/ In the real world!

I have had the opportunity to visit other countries and learn their languages, mainly through holidays. Mainly i know the Scandinavian languages, having visited a few of those countries.

Swedish

As my family has friends in Sweden and we’ve been on family holidays over there a few times, i learned words and phrases to make our trips more interesting. I know greetings and simple touristy phrases, and i know lots of random words! My food vocabulary is my strongest skill in Swedish, as i love Swedish food! I can pick out words from sentences and make a guess at what it means!

I also had the opportunity at university to study abroad and Sweden was my country of choice, but in the end i decided i would rather stay in England for the rest of my degree because i loved my university city, York, too much! Actually, i see now that i was very stupid to pass up such an opportunity! Oops!

Finnish

Finnish is another difficult language which is from a different language family to the other Scandic languages. It is fascinating though! I went on a family holiday to Finland as a teenager and i learned a few simple phrases and words in Finnish. I can pick out the odd word, but sentences are a bit too difficult to understand! It is one of the more difficult languages to learn, especially with the sentence structure and so on.

I did actually do an essay on the Finnish language at university, several years after this holiday, for which i learned about the history of Finnish and how Swedish used to be the main language spoken in Finland until Finnish was introduced as the main language. One day, it would be nice to learn a bit more Finnish because it is a really fascinating language!

Danish

I went to Denmark a few times on holiday, so i learned a few Danish words while i was there. Mainly i know food vocabulary!

Now and the future…

Currently i am taking 1-1 tutorial sessions to improve my German language skills, in the hope that i will someday be able to either live and work in Germany or at least communicate in German on a regular basis while working here in the UK. It is my favourite language so i decided to give it a shot, and i’m finding that i can actually remember a lot of my school German when prompted! The only problem is getting my head around all the grammar rules again!

In the future, i would like to maybe give Arabic another shot or start learning Finnish, as both are quite difficult to learn. I would love to learn Swedish properly, and i would like to improve my French to i can communicate more fluently in it!

My main aim is to become fluent in another language before i’m 30, so i’ve got 5 more years to get cracking!