We are told that British people are mainly a bunch of Monoglots (they only speak one language) – also language teaching in secondary schools is not compulsory any more.
I would question whether school is the best place to learn a foreign language in the first place. Let’s face it – schoolchildren are usually stuck in a classroom with very little actual connection with the foreign language being taught. No opportunity to listen to authentic foreign radio or watch foreign TV.
I have GCSEs in four languages – English, French, German, and Dutch.
My French is now just about non-existent. I can remember “Je vous prix Monsieur de l’acceptez de mes sentiments de tres destinguish” (not sure if I have spelled it 100% correctly but I do know it is French for “Yours Faithfully”). Oh – and “Il y a de broulliard” (“It is foggy”) but that is only because of a long-running joke in my GCSE French class which nearly got me a Detention.
My German is possibly slightly better – that is thanks to my “joint first” language of Dutch though. In fact – I only did a German GCSE because the school I was at didn’t teach Dutch. (Nor did the school I eventually took my GCSE at but that is another story.)
The way I learned Dutch (and got “top up” lessons) was what you might call “Real life”. Forget the textbooks and the Audio cassettes (or CDs). You can also forget the “sneak peeks” of words you may come across later in the lesson. Most of my Dutch lessons fun as well as a source of permanent confusion.
For example – “Would you like a boterham?”. I very quickly learned that the word in italics means “sandwich”. This lesson was one of the easiest ones to learn – mainly due to the fact that answering “yes” would result in a plate of sandwiches appearing.
Another good example is “Go and sit on the table”. All words in the English language – sentence construction in grammatical English – except Mum was actually trying to tell me to “sit at the table” (as I found out one day when I took her literally). Let’s just say I still get worried when people start talking about waiting “on the airport” instead of “at” it.
However, there is one thing which learning a foreign language using the “classroom” method and the “real life” method have in common – I have always had to translate every single word of a foreign language. (This drove my Mum mad.)
Of course there are words in English which change meaning depending on the context of the sentence. As a native speaker you can usually work out which mwaning is being used just by the sentence.
But – what abour when one word has two totally different meanings??? Like the Dutch word “Haring” (pronounced “Har-ring”) for example??? This one caused me hours of confusion when I was younger. One definition is an edible fish that Dutch people like to munch – and the other definition is what you use to hold guyropes attached to a tent to the ground with. Yes – Ladies and Gentlemen – a “Haring” can either be a Herring or a Tentpeg.
I am going to end this blog post with a sentence which you might be able to translate for yourself (just think of the time of year) – Prettige Kerstdagen en een Gelukkig Nieuwejaar.