Monday, 21 December 2015

Get a language, get a life

You're 15. To me, at 58, that's the youngest age at which you're approximately an adult. You're mature enough to think, in other words (even though you've been philosophically-minded for over a decade already).

This is the age at which I want to catch you. I think that you're ready. Listen to me; don't let this opportunity go by.

You're smart enough to understand what I'm saying. You're doing well at school and in the next few years you'll achieve a number of academic 'honors'. You won't let that go to your head, I'm happy to say. You'll realize that they're not worth much.

Instead, I want to get you thinking about languages.

Listen, Maths and Science are child's play for you. You handle English and History well. Heck, you'll even pass Art. But you've already had some problems with language.

Now, it's not that you haven't the experience of knowing a language other than English. After all, you grew up with anuda muvva tongue. You switched between Dutch and English according to which school you had to attend, and in which country you happened to be. (How many people can say they've sailed around the world via the Suez and Panama Canals under the age of eight?)

So you know what it feels like to know another language well, to the degree of slipping along from one into the other, rather than clumsily 'switching'. You know what another language is about. You remember activating one or the other by reading, always reading: fairy tales, comics, library books . . .

But then you got French and Latin.

'Cause when you started high school you were placed in the academic stream. You were made topmost of the top. 3A1 above 3A2 above 3G1, 3G2, 3G3, 3G4, 3G5, 3G6, 3G7 & 3G8, and God how horrible it would be to admit to being in 3G8! But it was almost as bad having to admit that you were in the highest class.

So anyway, you were duly served up French and Latin.

Short story: you had issues with French. The teachers were female. The language itself sounded feminine. The Latin teacher was a manly man. I imagined him as a Roman warrior. (He died years later in his 50s climbing mountains, I heard.) True, Latin was nicely Mathematical, but I couldn't see the point in memorizing and applying the rules on a language that was dead.

Now, tt the age of 15 you're about to throw languages out with the bathwater. With the benefit of hindsight, I've come here to urge you not to do that.

You see, you're going to spend several years living and working overseas. You're going to have two wives (not at the same time) whose first language isn't English. You're going to have four children all of whom will speak languages that you don't understand.

You're going to mingle with hundreds of people from dozens of other countries, helping them to master English. This will enrich your life to an incredible degree. In fact, you'll feel more at home with people from other lands than the country in which you were born (New Zealand).

Learning another language is easy if you do it right. However, very, very few people know how to do it right. I do, but it has taken me several decades to get to that point.

Let us short-circuit that process. Take a look at what I've got to give you. Trust me. Within a year or two (of being fifteen) you're going to be exposed to German, and you'll love it. You'll make good use of it when you go cycle-touring through Europe.

Get a language, get a life! 

That's the message of this blog.

As Johan Wolfgang von Goethe put it:
Wer fremde Sprachen nicht kennt, weiƟ nichts von seiner eigenen.
(He who doesn't know foreign languages knows nothing about his own.)

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