Monthly Archives: March 2015

RIP Terry Pratchett

When my children were growing up we had a nightly visitor to our home. Snuggled up on the sofa with my daughter on one side and my son on the other we dived into a world of fantasy, humour and wit – a magical and treasured time of my life.

I’ll never forget the pleasure Terry Pratchett gave to our lives – from the early days of The Carpet People through to the amazing Discworld novels.

This world will miss you, but those other worlds will live forever.

Becoming a polyglot

At the end of the month I finish my research job with Chwarae Teg.

It’s been a great 12 months, researching and writing about something I wholeheartedly believe in – that men and women have an equal right to choose how to balance their home life with their paid work and to have satisfying careers. Technology and modern ways of working are making this possible. Parents can decide for themselves how to share their childrearing duties, so they both stay in touch with their careers while their children benefit from quality time with both parents. It’s a new world that everyone can benefit from, and I was happy to play a small part in helping to bring it about.

But now it’s time to look at what else I’m passionate about … and have been since I was really young – language. Since the day when I sat as a child gazing out my window and trying to fathom what was it about the object I saw that made someone look at it and think “Ah … tree” while someone else looked at it and thought of a completely different sound, I’ve been fascinated by the variety of languages that exist on our small planet.

In school I dived into English grammar, wanting to know what made my native tongue tick. “Weird!” was the label I was given by my friends. I couldn’t wait to start learning my first foreign language but French wasn’t in the curriculum until I was 11, so I was delighted when my mother found an old German schoolbook of hers and I spent many an hour reading through it and saying the words to myself.

“You’ll do French and Latin”, stated the school principal when I went to ‘discuss’ my choices on entering secondary school. Others groaned, but not me! I was on cloud nine all the way home. “Even weirder!” thought my friends. A bit disappointing to find that learning grammar and translation in the classroom lead to zero conversational ability but I didn’t give up.

After leaving school I dived into the world of IT – working with the old IBM mainframes – but I couldn’t live without language learning so off to nightschool I went. I was living in Auckland, New Zealand and enrolled for a Samoan class as I thought that would be useful, but it was cancelled due to lack of numbers. I suspect I was the only one that registered!

“What languages do you have then?” “Er well, there’s only one that has sufficient numbers to run – German. What about that?”

Ah, my old friend from the little schoolbook. Yes, it wasn’t what I had in mind, but it would do, and I was happy. A couple of years later I set off on my travels, studied COBOL and ASSEMBLER in London, worked as a programmer in Surrey, then spent a 3-week working holiday (if you can call working from 7am to 7pm a holiday!) on a farm near Basel in Switzerland where I finally got to use my German in the wild. It wasn’t easy, especially when the farmer spoke Swiss German with a pipe in his mouth, but I was over the moon!

Back in the southern hemisphere I started exploring Australia. In Sydney, I took nightclasses in Italian and intermediate level German. In Weipa, I pestered a couple from Argentina to help me learn Spanish. In Perth, I went to Uni and did a BA in Spanish and Intercultural Studies, followed by learning Japanese in Albany, and picking up Esperanto along the way.

And then an amazing thing happened – along came the Internet!

All that signing up for classes which get cancelled due to lack of numbers, or having to sit there while the tutor reminds a participant for the umpteenth time that the ‘w’ in German is pronounced like a ‘v’, is now totally unnecessary. The Internet has opened up the world of language learning and anyone can learn any language anywhere.

Welsh was the first language I tackled using an online course and what a difference! I still went along to classes as the grammar fanatic in me just won’t let go, but being able to immerse myself in Welsh through the Internet gave a new impetus to my language learning.

And where does that leave an aspiring polyglot like me?

Spoilt for choice is probably the best answer.

So I’ve set myself a goal – well, two goals if I’m completely honest.

First – to bring all the languages I’ve ever had a go at up to conversational level – not discussing nuclear physics or anything (not that I could do that in English!) but to be able to comfortably socialise. I’ll start with the ones that I got furthest in before – Spanish, German and Esperanto …. and maybe a bit of French for good measure. Then Japanese, which I loved but have hardly used since.

Second – I’ll start on the languages that I just learnt a little of in order to visit those countries, but now I’m hooked and want to learn more – Vietnamese and Turkish.

I’m devouring information from great polyglot sites written by people like Benny – the Irish Polyglot, and I’m setting myself a timetable to achieve my goals. People say that you have to be young to really succeed at language learning, but I’m going to prove them wrong. I haven’t got far to go to reach 60, but before I do I will at least have most of Goal One under my belt.

Off we go!