Lucy was our first ever winner of the Junior Language Challenge and at age 23 has now chosen to take part in the uTalk Challenge learning Russian. Lucy already speaks Spanish, French, Italian, German and Latin and has been learning languages since she was 10 years old.
Why? Why not?
I was talking to some friends at work at the beginning of January, and it came up in conversation that I was learning Russian. ‘Why Russian!?’ one said. ‘Why not?’ was my reply. People are often surprised when I say that I love learning languages. I think to them, it seems a little removed from what I normally do (I work in science). And while I may have decided to work in science instead of languages, that doesn’t mean to say that they aren’t useful to me.
When I was about 10, a teacher from the local secondary school came to teach us Spanish once a week, and I thought it was brilliant! My teacher entered some of our class into the first ever EuroTalk Junior Language Challenge; being able to learn three different languages was even more exciting. Spanish, Greek (my first experience of a language with a different alphabet), and Saami – Santa’s language (northern Finland, to be exact). Taking part showed me that language learning was fun, and set me on a course of lifelong linguistics.
I’d describe myself as a patchwork of languages; I can speak each to a different level, ranging from Italian, my speaking is poor but my translation is decent, to Spanish, where I can happily hold a conversation. My latest is Russian, which I’ve always wanted to learn; I’ve just about got to grips with the Cyrillic alphabet. It’s fun to learn so many languages, it stretches my brain, and I love the feeling of being able to speak to someone in their native tongue, a mixture of pride and respect for their culture. However, that doesn’t mean to say that I don’t have problems! The use of the subjunctive in Spanish will forever escape me (in English we only use it in one specific way, when we say ‘If I were you…’), and those odd little verbs in every language that don’t follow the rules always hide away in the recesses of my mind when I want to use them.
How do I overcome problems? Practice! Practice speaking with others out loud, using odd verbs and new tenses and reading with literature from your chosen language starting with children’s stories and building it up (good for new vocabulary and surprisingly complex!) If you are learning more than one, try to compartmentalise them in your head; have a Spanish head and a French head. My Latin is extremely handy for any new scientific terms, I usually have a guess at what they mean before looking them up. My other languages are great for holidays, trips with work and just keeping my brain active. I certainly don’t intend to stop (I think I may try Basque next): you never know when you might need them!
I recently came back from a week long vacation in my home country, Romania. While there, I noticed something very interesting that I’m sure you’ll find as fascinating as I did.
I’ve been living in London for more than two years now and on a daily basis I only speak English. Well, I am currently learning my boyfriend’s language, Spanish, but that’s not really relevant for now. I do text and chat to my Romanian friends and my parents, and we sometimes speak on the phone, but 90% of the time I speak and think in English. Except when I have to count something in my head, that’s still Romanian – happens to you too?
So anyway, when I went back I obviously sat and talked and went out with friends and family, and so I noticed that in longer conversation I was having trouble using complex words and expressions and that I was often translating my thoughts from English to Romanian. In that way, I found myself asking in a café if I can have some brown sugar – but in Romanian the expression is actually ‘can you give me some brown sugar’, so I got some weird looks and then realised how silly it sounded.
The way I see it is that the brain seems to keep the information and skills that you use on a daily basis ‘at the surface’ and puts the rest in a back drawer. So the longer the time is that you do not think about something, the further back it goes. And so we forget the surnames of the people we went to school with and whose names we were able to say alphabetically by heart at the time, we forget about that awful blind date we went on a few years ago, we forget what a certain place that we used to see every day looks like.
Now I understand a bit better why daily practice makes such a difference when learning something new, be it a language, a software program or playing a new instrument. Keeping the knowledge fresh in your brain allows easier access to it and so you’ll find it extremely handy when faced with the opportunity of using it.
If you are determined to learn a new language, even just 15-20 minutes a day can make a huge difference, especially if you’ve found a fun way to learn. Our uTalk app helps you practise your new language, it’s fun and it trains your memory to remember what it learned. And it has 128 languages to choose from!
Do you find you’re forgetting your native language? I hope I’m not the only one!
Last week’s post, which contained our top ten tips for learning a language, inspired a few members of the EuroTalk team to share their own thoughts. Here’s what Seb had to say about his experience of learning Spanish, after leaving Colombia and coming to England when he was very young. And come back tomorrow to find out why Lorena recommends spending as much time as possible in the pub. We’d love to hear from anyone else who’d like to share their own advice. Please do send us an email to email@example.com if you’d like to contribute to the blog!
My parents emigrated to the UK from Colombia when I was very young and at the time the only language I could speak was Spanish. However, once I began my schooling in London I picked English up very easily. Well, I like to think so anyway because it was so long ago to the point where I cannot even remember a stage in my life where I could not speak both English and Spanish. Attending school and being around English speakers every day meant that very quickly my English overtook my Spanish in terms of the range of words I could use.
If this kept up I would have definitely forgotten how to speak Spanish. However, my parents made sure that my younger sister and myself always spoke in Spanish once we stepped into our house, because they knew that we would be immersed in the English language for the large majority of the day – from being at school to the shows we watched on television. Therefore, if we were in the house we had to speak in Spanish. I think this was my parents’ way of making sure that we didn’t forget our roots and at the same time they knew it would be beneficial for us in the future to be able to speak two languages, even though we may not have seen it back then.
This very quickly became routine and I would find it normal to speak Spanish at home and English when I was out, which fascinated some of my friends. Having been brought up in this way helped me greatly because it meant that I was able to learn English as well as Spanish simultaneously. It also helped me more in terms of my pronunciation and speaking, meaning that my Spanish is fluent enough for me to easily have a conversation, even though it is still not perfect.
Despite this, I believe that the only reason I am able to speak Spanish fluently at this age is because I had to speak it on a daily basis, and you know what they say, ‘practice makes perfect’. Therefore, I think that if you are attempting to learn a new language it is very important to immerse yourself in that language on a daily basis, so that you become accustomed to not only speaking it but also hearing it.