“You Just Pick It Up!”

Hi! Me again! Sorry… how long has it been? Sixteen days? My goodness!

Well, I have an excuse. I broke my foot. And no, I don’t have a dramatic story. I fell out the back door. That’s all. But it’s my excuse, and I’m sticking to it.

And I’m not even going to post my own post! Gasp! Actually, I wanted to reblog something from Lady of the Cakes, but I can’t work out how to do that, so you’ll have to just click on this handy link:

http://ladyofthecakes.wordpress.com/2013/11/25/urban-language-myths-you-just-pick-it-up/comment-page-1/#comment-8641

Because she makes some really good points, and she does it while being witty and funny.

I’ve blogged about a similar topic before, here: https://coveredrachel.wordpress.com/2013/06/17/what-is-fluency/. The topic in question being the annoying tendency of… well, pretty much anyone who can only speak/ hold a conversation in one language… to assume that people who speak more than one language have some freakish abnormal innate talent for learning languages.

Which, as anyone who’s learnt a second language can tell you, simply isn’t true.

I’ve probably mentioned it before, but here’s my stance: I firmly believe that there is not such innate talent for language (despite someone trying to convince me I have it at least once a week), and that anyone can learn a language with time, motivation, and stubbornness. (Or persistence. I’m not entirely sure on that one.)

Oh, and a good reason is probably important, too. Actually, I’m pretty sure that’s why Australians apparently aren’t particularly good at languages. (And Australians who bother are considered some sort of genius).

The other day, someone tried to convince me that people say they don’t see the point in learning a language to cover up the fact that they feel stupid about being unable to do so. This I can’t believe. A lot of people who claim to be unable to learn a language say just that, not that they can’t see the point in it. (Unless you’re talking about Gaelic. Then no-one can see the point in it). And living in a rather large country which pretty much all speaks one language, English  (ignoring some parts of central Australia where monolingualism is Pitjantjatjara is high), and where the closest country is five hours on a ‘plane and is New Zealand, which amazingly enough, also speaks English (and is pretty much like Australian in every way except it’s greener and wetter and smaller), means that a lot of the “true-blue” Aussie types really, truly, don’t quite comprehend that there are places out there where they’d be unable to communicate. (This is something that I doubt most people comprehend until they’ve been stuck in a strange country unable to communicate their utter lost-ness).

But anyway, I diverge. After getting rather annoyed that whomever I’m talking to thinks I have some freakish innate talent for languages, I then want to explain to them that I believe anyone can learn a language if they really want to. Some of them nod, accept my point of view, and move on. Others will argue the point.

And, really, how can you say all this to someone who is monolingual and convinced you’re a freak and that they’d never be able to learn a language, mostly because they did Indonesian or German in primary school and can barely count to ten due to a lack of a decent teacher, without making it sound like you think they’re lazy and not trying hard enough?

That said, and yes, I think I’ve said this somewhere before, yes, of course, now I have some sort of “freakish talent” for languages… by monolingual standards… maybe… and it’s simply because I’ve stuck at a few and now have the appropriate skills to compartmentalise, relate concept, and, well… I actually know the difference between a noun and a verb now, which I wasn’t quite clear on five years ago. Anyone who’s studied four languages, even if they’ve only managed to become anything resembling proficient in one, would be able to do that. It doesn’t mean I have any weird gene, it just means I was really stubborn when I started out.

(Which, now I think of it, could be a weird gene… After all, people with Asperger’s are known for being really stubborn and sticking to whatever their current obsession is.)

And, you know, while I might be some sort of crazy language genius to a monolingual person, I’d personally consider myself somewhere down the bottom of the talent range when it comes to learning languages. Yes, I know bits of a lot, but I don’t know much of any, except English and possibly German. I have a friend who is fluent (native-speaker level) in two (German and Dutch) and very close to native-speaker level in English, and did language Continuers in Year 12 for Spanish and French. One of my piano teacher’s other students is doing Continuers German and Spanish… and she’s a year ahead in German. Those people really are good at languages, and they don’t think anything of it (and probably don’t obsess about it like I do).

Anyway, I think what I’m saying is that there’s a certain amount – and by a certain amount, I mean a lot – of hard work that goes into learning a language to any sort of proficiency. Well, that and embarrassment, but usually both. And, even though people seem to think I’m some sort of crazy language genius, the truth is I’m not. By the standards of pretty much anyone remotely interested in learning languages properly, I’m probably lazy, slow, and have a short attention span. The only language I consider myself fluent in is English. My German is pretty good, but I can get out of my depth very easily. I may be able to impress with a few sentence is some languages, I may be able to hold a basic conversation in others, but I haven’t “picked up” those languages… I’m still working at them.

And now this has grown into a very long post, and I’m not at all sure that any of it makes sense. Oh, well. Just go over to Lady of the Cakes’ blog and read hers. It’s much better than my ramblings, I assure you.

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One thought on ““You Just Pick It Up!”

  1. Thanks very much for the reblog and the plug, Rachel 🙂

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