Posted by: Paul | August 1, 2010

Languages

Having worked in an extremely multi-lingual environment for more than a decade, it’s always irked me that I’m not fluent in another language. I speak a tiny bit of a few things – some I knew already and some I picked up due to editing multi-lingual projects – I have a little French, German, Japanese, and a tiny bit of Spanish, Italian and Dutch. I do have a good ear for pronunciation and a good eye for patterns though, hence I work very well with Japanese text.

I’ve often wondered why this is, as English people are, in my experience, the most steadfast single-linguists I’ve come across, with the possible exception of Americans. Is it a failing of the educational system? A throwback to the days of empire when we forced English onto a large part of the world, making it still the most widely spoken language?* Has this made us lazy? Or were we just bone idle as a nation to start with?

Whatever the reason, I find that a second language has opened doors for people I’ve worked with, and so I’m determined that Adam not grow up just speaking English despite the fact that both his parents do. Our nursery run French lessons from a certain age for a small extra charge so when he’s old enough we’ll definitely be signing him up for that. A teacher friend of mine also told me that pre-6 years old is the best time to start teaching a language, and it can be something as simple as just watching or listening to something in the background. So this morning, our old friend YouTube came up trumps – Adam wanted to watch Peppa Pig and I managed to find some episodes in French, Italian and Polish. The difference didn’t seem to bother him at all – the stories are simple and he’s seen most episodes so many times it seems like the perfect solution as he’s able to follow them, and hopefully it will gradually sink in. Maybe it will rub off on Mummy and Daddy too? All together now, “Swiiiinka Pig!”

*I say widely spoken to denote that it is understood in the largest range of countries. If you’re looking for what is spoken by the largest number of people, it is of course Mandarin Chinese by a country mile. English, Spanish and Hindi languish way behind, roughly neck and neck between the three of them in terms of numbers of speakers.

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