… sauf que je ne peux pas parler une langue étrangère. * translation a the end for those who need it.
I’ve been reading through various website recently and have noticed that there are some things going on:
- English teenagers and young adults have poor literacy skills.
- Universities are reducing language courses.
- Children who fall behind in their reading skills by age seven will struggle to keep up.
- Fewer children read in their spare time or for enjoyment.
I’ve been quite lucky, I don’t have dyslexia as many people in my family do, I’ve always been pretty good at English and I was forced to take a Modern Foreign Language (MFL) at GCSE. Hang on, why does that make me lucky? I didn’t particularly enjoy doing it, many of my classmates hated it, but I think that studying French for 5 (sort of 7, but I’ll get to that) years improved my English.
In our English lessons in primary school and secondary school I don’t particularly remember learning any grammar. I must have done, I can use different tenses, and I know what nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs etc. are. I can use apostrophes, commas, even semi colons, correctly and I can chose to use punctuation in different ways. (You may have noticed I make use of parenthesis and hyphens to write small asides here and there, but that’s just to fit my written language with my spoken speech patterns. Many of my friends have said I write as I talk and I think that’s probably due to my ‘interesting’ approach to punctuation.) – But I can never remember if the full stop should go before or after the last bracket… Oh well!
It’s because I know how to use them (or at least I believe I do, please feel free to correct me in the comments) that I can chose how to use them, or how to adapt them to fit to my style.
I started French lessons in year 5. Mum hired my brother’s class teacher to give me lessons. I can’t remember that teacher’s name right now, but she had apparently previously worked as a spy! She spoke at least French and German fluently and used to translate communications at the local Air Force base. So that meant she was a spy. Don’t try to tell me differently!
She drew a picture of a face and labelled it for me (apologies for poor spelling):
les yeux – the eyes
le nez – the nose
la bouche – the mouth
les oreilles – the ears
les cheveux – the hair – careful not to confuse this with ‘cheval’ as you would be telling French people you have a horse on your head.
Anyway, this was the beginning of my education in French. The next year, in year 6, my former teacher Mrs Redrup took us once a week for French. Where i went over exactly the same stuff, this time, being called ‘Francois’ as we were given French names for our French lesson. I see the theory behind this, however, since my actual name ‘Eleanor’ IS French, my name didn’t and still does not start with ‘F’ and Francois is a boy’s name, I was a little put out.
In year 7 we had French lessons, but since our form was made up of a combination of different feeder primary schools, many children hadn’t taken French, so off we went from the beginning again.
To move the point along, as I’m sure you hope I would, I took GCSE French, could order a hotel room with a shower and a view of the lake in my oral exam and got an A. And ever since, each time I’ve landed in France I have an irresistible urge to let people know what is in my pencil case, tell them I’m 12 and that my mum has medium length blonde hair.
I’ve not completely forgotten all I’d learned, I can read it relatively well, even if I miss out some of the subtleties, I get by at tourist attractions with only French labelling on display cabinets. I can understand mostly when people are talking to me and I try, with a reasonable accent, to order food in French or ask questions. I am invariably replied to in English, which is very useful, but doesn’t help me practise my speaking skills. I feel embarrassed that I am not better at languages. I should be. I’ve got a good ear, I can mimic words, but when I get to France I’m just almost incapable of saying anything that doesn’t begin with “Dans mon sac il y a une règle, une gomme, une calculatrice …”
In fact anywhere I go I try to learn at least a few works, please, thank you, yes, no, I’m sorry I don’t speak your language etc. It seems polite to do so. Just because English is a dominant world language and I happen to have been born in an English speaking country doesn’t mean I should just expect not to have to learn other languages.
I think learning French, and for two years, German, my remaining sentences being “Ich lebe eine halbe Meile von der Schule, das ist 10 Minuten zu Fuß.” And “Das ist ein Kaninchen.” helped my English because I had to learn it in a way that meant I could fit each verb to different pronouns. When I was trying to correct the English of my class I ended up reverting to using this technique, I said, he said, she said, etc. and it helped them out.
So now it has not been compulsory for people to learn a Modern Foreign Language and now there are less opportunities to study it to degree level. It means that Britain will be left behind when it comes to sourcing employees who are bi- or tri-lingual. It means that we appear to be too lazy even to teach our children that there is worth in learning the languages of other countries, or even worth in learning to speak and write our own language correctly. It makes me sad.
And the other articles – less children are reading for fun, often because they are worried that they won’t look cool in front of their friends if they are seen reading a book that they weren’t told to.
I love books, and now I completely love my Kindle. I’ve downloaded electronic copies of loads of free books, most of which I have a physical copy of too. It’s making my travels around the country and beyond so much easier, as I don’t have to choose between taking one large book or 3 or 4 smaller ones.
My love of books was developed early and I’ve talked about this before, so won’t go over it too much at the moment, but I do think it’s important for parents to encourage their children to read, by reading to them, by making it fun and interesting, by giving them different options of what they can read – by taking them to the local library and signing them up for a card.
*I don’t regret anything apart from not learning another language. Or something along those lines, I’m not great at French.