"Learn a new language and get a new soul" Czech Proverb

I am a firm believer that learning a language enriches our understanding of our own. If you learn a language you have a greater understanding of the culture and way of thinking of the people who speak that language. Languages open doors to places you could never get to if you didn't speak the language of that country or people. But I am biased; I have been learning languages - well since I was a babe in arms as I had to learn my own first! I was lucky enough to be part of a pioneering language learning initiative in Leeds in the early 1970s. Some forward thinking person thought that it would be a good idea to trial the provision of Primary School foreign language learning, so at the age of about 10 I was given the opportunity to learn French. I had an enlightened, vivacious, enthusiastic, young (and very trendy) teacher who passed on a passion for languages that I have never lost. Thank you Miss Francis. I participated in a school exchange to a small but growing satellite town of Paris called Vitry-sur-Seine in 1975 at the age of 12 (just). I understood more than I could say; I was a timid, little girl who had been brought up to be seen and not heard, to speak only when spoken to and who spent a whole week nodding and smiling, occasionally saying "Oui" or "Non" and "Merci, beaucoup" and hoping that I did all those things at the right time and the right place in the conversation! However, my host family were, (are) wonderful. My "penfriend" was a year younger than me but about 10 years older in terms of confidence and maturity, she was a doted-on only child, I was the eldest of 4 girls in a house that was never quiet. We couldn't have had a more different social background but Yvonne and Andre adopted me and accepted me as a second daughter, Christine treated me as a sister and a relationship started that still exists 38 years later! We haven't seen one another often and my contact is more often with Andre and Yvonne than with Christine but we are still in contact and when we met up 3 years ago after 20 years it was like we had never been apart! Christine now has two children of her own - similar ages to mine but one girl and one boy. Now I have moved to NZ it is unlikely that I will see Andre and Yvonne again - they are in their 70s but maybe I will get a chance to go back to France or maybe Christine and her family will take a holiday in NZ?
I spent a couple of school summer holidays in my teenage years with Christine at their house in Olonzac in the South of France and a relationship with Le Midi began. I love Languedoc, I love the pace of life, the colours, the smells, the sounds, the language, the accent, the food, the wine, the climate ... why don't I live there? Yvonne and Andre have retired back to Andre's home village of Olonzac and I took my family to stay with them a few years ago - it was like going home! They still treat me like a daughter and their warmth and generosity is typical of "les gens du Mid". But I digress, I am lost in reminiscences more suitable to a personal blog, so I will drag myself back to the present and the reason for a Languages page on my Wiki.

That connection to French and France which started way back in 1973 led me to studying for a degree in French, German and Politics and then a Post Graduate Teaching Certificate in French and Outdoor Education and a passion to travel and absorb language and culture wherever I went. I am still amazed by the connections I discover between words and their origins and how these transfer across languages and cultures and how fascinating the evolution of languages is and how much they can tell us about the history of a people or a country. I am also fascinated with the way that people acquire language; when is the best time to learn, do we all learn in the same way, can anyone learn a language? This video raises some interesting questions, answers a few and asks some more...

"The only difference between adults learning a language and children learning language is life." Vocabulary acquisition can continue as we grow older, but syntactical language, grammar etc has a "best before" date! This is a fascinating video, about language acquisition. The brain doesn't work on quantity but on quality.
Do children who are brought up bilingually take longer to speak and if so, do they catch up with their monolingual peers? On average a monolingual speaker has a larger vocabulary then a bilingual speaker. However, a bilingual speaker has two sets of vocabulary and a richer understanding of language and there is no academic disadvantage. Bilingual education is so powerful that it seems to be ameliorating the negative effect of low economic status - learning languages makes kids "smarter" - we have to be careful of using the word "smarter" but it certainly helps linguistic processing. Attitudes have changed - 20 yrs ago people said that bilingualism slowed development, meant that kids took longer to speak and to process, but research has showed that this is not the whole picture. There are cognitive processes that underlie what it means to be "smart"; these are specialised abilities in the most expensive part of brain which is at the front of the brain. It is highly evolved and tends to develop last and it is the basis for everything that makes human though unique. In broad terms any sustained stimulating activity improves the function the development of brain structures and mental functions and bilingualisms is one such activity.
Ref: Laura-Ann Pettito

How can toddlers learn language so easily? It is a survival instinct, a defensive mechanism. The power and flexibility of language is unique. This video from the BBC's "The Human Body" asks some interesting questions, answers some of them but leaves plenty of scope for thought and reflection.

Fish building, Barcelona.jpg

I have just created a Twitter account for my Spanish class (Twitter name @kiwichicas) with the aim of encouraging them to Tweet in Spanish. I selected a few of the suggested Tweeters to follow to give us some content to start off with and found a link to this blog. It struck a chord because just a few weeks ago at the language course I am studying for at the moment we were talking about how language and culture are intertwined and that we really needed to be able to speak a language to truly understand the culture. I made the comment that living in a different country and being immersed in the language is almost like being able to re-invent yourself and have a different persona.