If you’re encouraged by what you’ve read on this page and would like to take up or develop your ability in French, German or English (for non-native speakers) please get in touch. As well as immersion courses (for French and English) I offer flexible personalised online language lessons at very affordable prices. Please contact me for more information, Marjorie on +44 (0)14 13 32 85 07 or by email to email@example.com
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How comfortable are you with you
Do you recognise the angst? You're about to talk to someone you may have met before but you're not sure, and even if you have you're not sure what level of formality is appropriate, meaning you can't for the life of you remember which version of "you" to use when addressing them! It's bad enough knowing what to say in a foreign language anyway, without worrying about the risk of offending someone by addressing them incorrectly, or making yourself look stupid. Even "s'il vous plaît", which we all learnt religiously at school as meaning "please", can sound rather funny to a child's ear who's expecting you to say "s'il te plaît" (Literally, "if it pleases you") and of course if you address a customer with the informal "you", don't be surprised if they think twice about giving you that order.
Luckily, as non-native speakers, we are allowed to bend the rules slightly and can often break social norms, which can be quite liberating, but personally I rather like this ability other European languages have to distinguish between good friends and casual acquaintances. It would appear that this distinction is breaking down to a certain extent amongst the younger generation, who will much more readily switch to the informal "you" than the older generation, but nonetheless the distinction is still there.
I remember years ago, whilst working as a Language Assistant in a German school, I was invited to accompany a German teacher on a "Wanderung" (good example of a "faux ami" here by the way, as a "Wanderung" is far from the gentle stroll I was expecting - much more a fairly strenuous hike. But more of that in another blog post!). In any case, there was another lady with her, who I assumed was her friend, but when I heard them addressing each other as "Sie" (the formal "you"), I decided that couldn't be the case. Imagine my surprise upon discovering that these two ladies had been going on hikes together every weekend for the previous 20 years, and had never decided they wanted to cross that frontier and enter the land of friendship. They were quite happy to remain acquaintances who shared a common interest. Now, that might be an extreme example, but wouldn't you appreciate being able to keep certain colleagues or work acquaintances at an acceptably formal distance?
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Man cannot live by bread alone - unless he's French!
As a linguist and language teacher, I often refer to this quote when trying to motivate students to learn another language. It can make for an interesting debate too, as in many ways it's a chicken and egg scenario. What really does come first? The language, or the thoughts, or is it a bit of both? Clearly language will always be created to meet a need and will develop according to the interests and characteristics of its users, but this in turn produces a wealth of vocabulary and phrases for subsequent generations, which will no doubt mould and influence their thoughts. Sometimes French just has that certain "je ne sais quoi", which cannot be translated into English. Allow me to illustrate this by means of a little anecdote.
Years ago, when we had two small daughters, we were fortunate enough to have a holiday flat in Dinard, Brittany – a fascinating seaside town with a curious mix of both “The English” and “The French” (or should I say “The Parisians”). It used to be the holiday destination of choice for the wealthy of both nations, and is still home to many. As well as exhibiting some wonderful architecture as a result, it also retains a certain rarefied atmosphere. When we first bought our flat, the upstairs apartment was inhabited by the charming Odile who delighted in giving us advice for where to go and what to do in the area. Sadly, she was forced to sell a short while later, and the new occupants, a Parisian "Madame" and her grown-up daughter, were somewhat more aloof. It was therefore with surprise that we found ourselves being formally invited to “apéritifs” in their apartment one summer's evening. We were of course flattered to be asked, and didn’t wish to offend, so politely accepted. However, as it was clearly going to be a somewhat stiff adult affair, it was with some trepidation that we walked up the steps to their apartment a few hours later, having armed our two youngsters with enough colouring books and pens to keep them going (as well as more than a few "guidelines" on how to behave).
Soon, drink in hand, and one eye on the girls, we were ready to make whatever small talk came our way. However, that proved rather difficult in that, as you will see, there wasn’t much we could contribute. For about half an hour our host and her various guests discussed the pros and cons of each and every boulangerie in Dinard, comparing with ones they knew back in Paris – in some the dough wasn’t quite right, in others the crust was too soggy, in others the taste was simply lacking in some essential ingredient or other. I was just musing over the wisdom of admitting to happily buying baguettes from the supermarket because it was nearer (and dare I say cheaper?) when my host, clearly wishing to include us in the conversation, turned and said “Do tell me. You must have similar types of conversation about bread back in England?”. And as I thought of the rows and rows of sliced white bread sitting on those supermarket shelves, I can honestly say I couldn’t think of a single response.
As a bit of a codicil, I'd like to include here a link to a Europe 1 radio report about life on the island of St Martin after hurricane Irma hit in September 2017, where the only sign of life is one boulangerie, which, courtesy of its generator, continues to be the lifeblood of the community. As one member of the public said "Le pain, c'est la vie". This illustrates perfectly the point I've made in this blog post.
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Language ability - a double-edged sword?
The love of foreign languages and the absolute belief that in a language lies the magic key to a country’s culture, will almost certainly lead to great adventures, sometimes dangerous ones, where the ability to speak the language may get you into a tight spot, but it will almost certainly get you out of it as well! You too may have had some scrapes because of your language ability (or lack of it) and I’d love you to share your own experiences, but firstly, allow me to illustrate what I mean with an example of my own.
Years ago, in my backpacker days (way before mobile phones or even emails, for those of you from a somewhat younger generation) I found myself in Lima. I had just been trekking across South America with a group of fellow travellers, which had been tiresome to say the least, not that the journey had been hard work – far from it. If anything, it had all been made too easy. I had been travelling with a group of people supposedly keen to travel “rough” but several of them had whinged incessantly with the result that the whole group was mollycoddled to a ridiculous degree. Anyway, that part of my journey was over. I now had a few days on my own in Lima and I was resolved to make the most of it all before I flew home the next day.
There was no question I was vulnerable – fair-haired, white-skinned, very much a “gringa”, I rather stood out amongst the locals, since Peru’s terrorists had all but put a stop to what had been a blossoming tourist trade. I was aware of the potential dangers, but I so wanted adventure, to explore and to connect with new exciting people by conversing with them in Spanish. By the time this story began I only had one day left of my holiday and disappointingly I still hadn’t had the chance to really converse with many locals. I decided to venture forth, put some money and other essentials in my pocket and, slinging my well-travelled purple karrimor jacket over my arm, I left the hotel and sauntered down the cobbled street. I was aware of several pairs of eyes on me, which left me feeling a little uneasy, but my determination to enjoy my freedom as a traveller now that I was truly on my own overruled any desire to return to the safety of my hotel. I turned into Calle de Mercado and studied the leather wares on the pavement.
“Yoo cum fom Ingeland?” The voice came from a young woman and quite took me by surprise. “No, vengo de Escocia,” I replied, delighted to have the chance to make contact with a native at long last and to practise my Spanish. “Ah sí, Scotland. There lives my …..mi abuela” “Grandmother? Your grandmother lives there “ I volunteered helpfully. “Sí, I visit her soon. I want to practees my Ingilish” and with that she brought out a picture of her grandmother who she explained was paying for her to go and visit her next year. Her face quite lit up when she mentioned it – obviously the thrill of travelling to a new culture was just as exciting to her as it was to me and with there being so few foreigners in Lima she wouldn’t ordinarily get much opportunity to speak with native English speakers.
The girl introduced herself as Silvia Baldasano, a student of politics at the university. She seemed really lively and interesting to talk to and being desperate to get to know a real “local” and to speak in Spanish, I agreed to have a drink in a café with her. It was late in the afternoon but still light and there were plenty of people about. I followed her for several blocks to get to a particular café Silvia had in mind and as we went, we talked about life in Lima and how tough the economic situation was. Silvia explained she’d already had several run-ins with the police. “Drogas” she said matter-of-factedly. I stared dumbstruck. “Drugs?” “No, not really”, Silvia laughed, “but that does not stop the problemas con la policía.” She explained that she and her friends were often suspected just because they were liberal students and had views of their own. Wow! I was so intrigued by such tales from Silvia that we sat there for a good couple of hours. We exchanged addresses and it was all arranged for Silvia to contact me when she visited her grandmother in a few months’ time. I took out my cheap disposable camera (I’d been warned not to carry around expensive equipment), and asked the waiter to take a picture of the two of us together, promising to send a copy to my new-found friend. Finally realising I ought to get back to my hotel before it got too late, I got up to go and Silvia kindly offered to accompany me. The streets were very quiet now and I was relieved I wasn’t on her own. Besides, the way back didn’t seem so clear to me now. She told me she felt cold and so I lent her my jacket.
As we turned the next corner we were confronted by a couple of men who declared themselves to be plain-clothed policemen. I had been warned this could happen and that they’d only want to see my passport. Problem was I’d left that back at the hotel. Silvia told me not to worry, gave a very knowing look and showed her ID card to one of the officers. There was obviously a problem with it and she was asked to get into the 2-door car parked by the kerb. They then turned to me. I explained in my best Spanish where my passport was and suggested they accompany me to the hotel. Without being allowed to think, I too was ushered into the back of the car. I started trying to explain where the hotel was and then realised they were going in the opposite direction. What was happening? I had been warned about fake policemen using this kind of ploy but Silvia had accepted their IDs as being valid so surely they were genuine?
There was no time to think things through. There was a constant heated argument going on between Silvia and the policeman in the passenger seat and in between words were slaps to her face and shouted instructions to me. “Tu amiga! ….. Drogas! Dame lo que tienes en tus bolsillos” .
I understood he wanted me to empty my pockets, which apart from the cheap camera, amounted to one biro pen, 2 postcards and stamps, chewing gum and a rather tattered mini phrase book. They wanted to see what else I had on me and the particularly sinister-looking “policeman” started pulling at my top. I wasn’t sure if they were after drugs on me too, or intent on something even worse, but to stop him molesting me any further I lifted my top sufficiently to reveal my by-now-empty bum-bag.
At that point the two men seemed to lose interest in me, being too occupied with the main drug candidate Silvie. The car stopped suddenly and I was allowed to get out. I put my head back in the window to try to get my jacket back from Silvie, but she just looked at me, with a strange look on her face. And as the car sped away I was still shouting after them “Esta chica tiene mi chaqueta” “That girl’s got my jacket”. There was no response, though I did see Silvia glancing over her shoulder through the back window, looking altogether calmer now.
I didn't have time to interpret Silvia's behaviour. On the one hand, I’d escaped unharmed. But on the other, it was now dark and I had been abandoned goodness knows where in the rougher part of town on a dimly-lit street. Apart from the sentimental attachment to my purple karrimor jacket (I had after all travelled round the world in it) the one thing of immense value still in its pockets was a map of Lima. Without knowing which direction to turn, fear for my life took a grip and I ran and ran, without stopping for breath. My sense of direction is anything but natural but maybe luck was with me on this occasion, because the direction I chose to run in led eventually to a road I recognised as being near my hotel.
I ran in to the reception and only then did I allow myself to break down and confide in the manager what had happened. He was very sympathetic, but he told me this sort of thing happened all the time.
The next day I was going home. And after the thrill of adventure, dawn couldn’t come quickly enough. I’d had enough excitement to last me for some time so I wasn’t exactly sorry to be saying goodbye to Peru as I walked towards the plane which would take me home. The slight chill in the air made me shiver and made me think of my lovely warm jacket. And as I did so, I thought of another likely conversation being struck up on Calle de Mercado by a young woman with an eager face, wearing a somewhat oversized purple karrimor jacket. “Yoo cum fom Ingeland?”
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What makes the teaching of foreign languages unique?
Undoubtedly teachers of any subject will argue that their subject is unique and needs to be taught in a specialised way, and I would not be so bold as to dispute their claims, but teaching a language must surely be considered a special case. One particular feature of foreign language teaching is that the language forms both the goal and the means by which this goal is reached. In other words, it is impossible to stand outside of the subject matter, as is the case in any other subject and define it in terms other than its own. Language, particularly when the class is being conducted in the same language, has to use itself to define itself.
Contrasts and Contradictions
Language is a highly academic subject on the one hand, but practical in nature on the other, in that students have to demonstrate by speaking, often in role plays, that they have digested the information. It is logical in terms of grammar rules and syntax structure and yet inconsistent, because we are dealing with something highly subjective and variable. A living language will have various different ways of saying the same thing, with slightly different nuances each time, that vary from region to region and from person to person. Psychological understanding and basic human awareness also come into play, as we are dealing with human beings and we have to judge what effect our words are producing in order to be able to tailor what we are saying. We have to be great mimics and yet clever creators.
Subjectivity and Sensibilities
Vocabulary is context-sensitive. Many words mean different things depending on where and how they are said and if they are in idiomatic expressions or on their own. Judgements have to be made all the time not just on “correctness” but on style too.
Vocabulary is far from being an exact science. There are many apparent synonyms but native speakers will choose to use them differently depending on context. There are also multiple meanings of the same word, for instance, if we are presented with two statements, “The woman shouted that the house was on fire” and “The captain ordered his men to fire” and we then hear “Fire!” we do not know whether it relates to the fire at the house or the captain’s orders.
Language is entirely caught up with the workings of the brain. We think with the words we are brought up with, which affects and modifies and moulds our thoughts. If words don’t exist, how can we have certain thoughts? Language is certainly an insight into a cultural way of viewing things, making it all the harder for the student to learn the language if some words / thoughts cannot be translated.
Need for Interpersonal Skills
Learning a language entails a high degree of interaction not only between the students and the teacher but, almost more importantly, amongst the students themselves. This often means opening yourself up to the class in a way you would not have to in any other subject, talking about yourself, your family, your ambitions etc., and such discourse can be difficult for shyer, less confident individuals. The amount of interpersonal skills required can also be a barrier to language learning, unless students are paired off correctly and the teacher is sensitive to their individual personalities and needs.
Not Much Room for Opinions
Another factor, which makes language learning harder in any classroom but particularly in the adult community, is that there is not a lot of room for personal opinions, certainly not in the early stages. Most information simply has to be learnt, before the student can be at all “creative”. For adults this is harder anyway, but on top of that, they generally have less time than children to devote to memorizing vocabulary.
Cumulative not Modular
Language learning is cumulative as opposed to modular, by which I mean the content of a class will of necessity build on top of previously-learnt material as opposed to covering a completely new topic, as may be the case with say History, Geography or Maths. Even if the syllabus is topic-based, it would be impossible to introduce a completely new topic without referring to and using material already taught. This can cause problems in that if students miss lessons, particularly more than one in a row, it is very hard if not impossible for them to catch up. The information missed has to be mastered before they can progress, and, because much of the language learning is done by practising it within the classroom environment, it can be hard for those students to learn the material on their own. Using a dictionary, even an online one, requires a feel for the language and a knowledge of different grammatical terms, which is not always apparent. An example might be a student wishing to translate “She addressed the crowd”, might look up “address” in the dictionary but then need to know the difference between the verb and the noun, and additionally will need the skills to conjugate the verb correctly.
An additional problem with foreign languages, particularly fellow European ones such as French, is the existence of “faux amis” (false friends), words which look very similar if not identical, but which in fact have a very different meaning. The result can be confusing if not embarrassing. An example of this might be “actuellement” in French, meaning “currently” not “actually” or “éventuellement” meaning “possibly” not “eventually”. I wonder how many French sales people have inadvertently used the latter in a business meeting and found themselves committed to something in a way they didn’t intend.
No Language is Static
Languages have always developed with time, borrowing words from other languages and inventing words for new technology as they comes along. Currently, of course, it is predominantly English which is being amalgamated into other languages, but native English speakers need to be aware, that once our words have been adopted by other languages, their meaning changes, for instance “people” in French does not have the same generic meaning as in English, but rather it refers to “celebrities”.
Native versus Non-Native Speakers
Native-speaker pupils certainly alter the mix and the dynamics of lessons in a unique way. Often, they have a native level in some but not all of the four skills (reading and writing generally lag behind their speaking and listening abilities). Even their native speaking level doesn’t guarantee them full marks, as they don’t always fully satisfy the exam criteria, and on top of that, native speakers do not always speak in the most eloquent, or appropriate “register”. My own daughter lost half a point in an English oral in France, because she inserted the word “like” as a filler, as has become common amongst young native English speakers.
Of course, the language teacher too may well be a native speaker. This is generally perceived to be a positive thing, since they speak with a perfect accent. However, in secondary schools, native speakers can be at a disadvantage as regards discipline, as, unless their English is impeccable, students will relish any possible misunderstandings. I remember once hearing a French teacher say “Stop to talk”, meaning of course “Stop talking”, upon which the pupils delighted in stopping whatever they were doing, in order to talk. I would also argue that a non-native teacher, who has had to learn the language in the same way as the pupils are expected to, not only gains respect, but can possibly encourage and motivate them that bit more. In the South of England in particular, there are currently many native MFL teachers, so much so, that when in response to pupils’ questioning I tell them I come from Scotland, they are often most surprised. They have grown so used to native-speaker teachers that they cannot conceive of a fellow English speaker being able to master foreign tongues!
Much as I value the wonderful contributions made by native speakers, both in our classrooms and in our economies, and I hope they will feel just as at home here as Brexit approaches, my fervent wish is that we can motivate and educate our own young Brits, such that they can be just as fluent in foreign languages, whether they wish to use them in the classroom or in business, at home or abroad.
So, is language teaching unique? Almost certainly, yes! Challenging? Definitely! Rewarding? Indubitably!
Do you agree? Please email me your comments. It’d be great to get opinions from teachers and students alike.
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Which is more important - memory or motivation?
It is interesting to ponder which is more important, the ability to remember, or the motivation to learn. Particularly as regards foreign language learning, the ability to remember vocabulary and grammar is vital, and provided the student actually attends lessons, a good memory will see him/her pretty well through the course. Undoubtedly, the ability to learn quickly will be highly encouraging and serve as a motivator in itself, even without any other motivating factors. However, we know that motivation comes in many different guises and that even those amongst us with poor natural memory skills can, if we really want to, learn a foreign language. It’s not so much a case of “mind over matter” as “mind over memory”. Provided sufficient motivation exists, even the poorest memories can be trained and with the help of a good teacher the salient information can be retained and applied.
So, what is Motivation?
Common motivating factors are normally looked at under two headings – external and internal. External are reasons imposed upon the student, for example the need to do a particular subject in order to take up the profession of choice. Internal ones are those that come from within students themselves, and as such are more interesting and more powerful. An inner desire to learn is always going to be more successful than the imposition of the need to pass a particular exam.
One highly motivating internal factor, as we’ve already seen, is one’s natural ability. With foreign language learning, this comes down to having a good memory and being able to remember the vocabulary and the grammar. People like doing things they are good at, and this will probably be a huge motivator, for adults and children alike. How often have we heard people say they gave up certain subjects at school because they were bad at them? Being good at something tends to lead us to like it.
As an adult of course, merely being good at something is not sufficient as a motivator, although it helps. Adults need to see that there is a reason for learning something, albeit that that reason might just be sheer curiosity or a desire to try something out. Often, though, there are other reasons we impose on ourselves, as we see what we could gain from acquiring a new skill. It is also a time when we look back, possibly with regret, to our wasted school days and wish we’d applied ourselves that little bit more. As an adult, we can well understand the benefits of speaking another language and often this will motivate us enough to start learning again.
When Motivation Falters
Unfortunately, partly because there is generally no external motivation for adult learners, there tends to be quite a high drop out rate from courses. This may in part be because people have unrealistic expectations. For example, adults often wish to speak a foreign language fluently because they’d like to converse with locals on holiday or carry out business transactions abroad. However, the problem with this is that they want to be able to achieve that goal immediately, whereas to reach the level of fluency desired would require several years of hard study. They don’t think of the timescale nor of the hard slog required in between and when the going gets tough, they lose interest.
Even if they have realistic expectations, at the end of the day, adult students have other priorities and commitments and obligations, which may just mean that foreign language lessons are overtaken in importance.
It does take time to progress, and students need to be able to work on their language regularly. If they are learning by themselves, this can be particularly hard, but even if they are attending courses, they really do need to attend the majority of lessons (ideally all of them), not always easy in the adult world, and also be able to do some work (using their “memory”) in between, otherwise they’ll find that they are starting to struggle within the class.
If they do fall behind because of this, they lose confidence in their ability to continue with the course, leading them to feel bad about themselves and therefore less inclined to come, and/or they rate the course less highly, which in turn will also lead them to drop out.
As mentioned before, with languages there is a very clear link between learning a language and “memory”. Certainly, in the early days of learning a language, it is almost entirely memory work, so the more we understand how our memory functions the more successful we will be both as learners and as teachers.
How we Learn
It is especially true of adults, but also of children learning a second language, that we need to be able to “understand” what we are learning. We do that by relating it to information we already possess and classifying it. Just like coats on coat pegs, every piece of new grammar or vocabulary has to be put on its correct “peg” so that we can make sense of it and know where to retrieve it from when we need it. This way, we group pieces of information together that go together and we make links between them for ready recollection.
Even so, we must hear/read that information frequently to get it to be retained inside our long-term memory. And then we must practise it over and over. We need to apply that knowledge, using it in “real” situations. Adults in particular must see the value in what they are doing.
We learn through all of our senses, our sight, hearing, smell, taste. In fact, whilst information can be actively recalled from memory, the most deep-seated memories are often conjured up by the senses alone and are all the deeper for it. We all have different sensory learning styles: some people take information in better if they see it, others if they hear it and still more only really learn if they actually “do” something with the information.
Something that can safely be said for all students, is that they need to be interested and entertained in a class. If they are enjoying the lesson and having fun, they will be learning without making any conscious effort, which is actually a more effective way of learning. It’s certainly the natural way that children learn, and games are often successfully employed in MFL classrooms. However, the power of fun learning can sometimes be forgotten in the adult classroom, where games can appear “beneath them” or as a waste of time.
How can the teacher help with learning?
In explaining new information, teachers can classify it for students, relating it to material already covered, or to prior knowledge shared by the students, helping them to make sense of it within their own understanding. With languages, we can relate vocabulary to words in our native tongue, explain how to interpret similar things, give them the tools to be able to do it themselves – empower them! One example might be from French where an explanation that a circumflex indicates where an “s” used to be in an older French word often allows a parallel to be drawn with an equivalent English word, e.g. “vêtements” (clothes) and “vestments”. It is also helpful to point out similarities to English phrases they will have come across e.g. “comme si comme ça” or “laissez faire”.
In fact there are many words that can be pointed out in this way, since thousands of English words either come directly from French or at least from the same route, and all the students have to learn is how to pronounce them correctly. In just teaching the rules of pronunciation, a whole wealth of foreign vocabulary can be opened up to students. As Spanish has close parallels with French, this is also helpful for Spanish acquisition, while German too has many vocabulary links with English (e.g. Bad - bath, Hunger - hunger, Mann - man) , and is also closer to English in terms of pronunciation.
To impart new knowledge, teachers need to be using as many different senses as possible and to vary this in each lesson. Maybe one week playing a dialogue, then looking at the transcript, before getting them to act it out? Or another week letting them look at the dialogue first then hear it, before making up their own similar dialogue? Sometimes teachers should explain the pronunciation rules, the vocabulary and the grammar before working on a piece of language, but at other times it may be more fruitful to let students work things out by themselves.
New information then needs to be recalled the following lesson and at regular intervals thereafter. The more it is revisited the better it will be lodged in long-term memory. Setting homework will encourage the students to revisit that “new” information during the week, thereby reinforcing what has been taught in the lesson. A few minutes can be spent at the beginning of the next lesson going over the homework, which will not only encourage students, it will also provide a recap of what was covered in the previous lesson.
As important as the imparting of any information is the importance of making lessons enjoyable. As mentioned before when looking at motivation, a fun lesson will encourage students to attend and to participate. Fun also helps us learn. Language games can work supremely well. Even adults enjoy them, although teachers need to be careful not to patronise or make anyone feel awkward who perhaps doesn’t want to join in.
So, which is more important - motivation or memory? Well, when it comes to learning a foreign language, I don’t believe the two can be separated or the differential calculated. They are both vital to the learning process. Students with a good memory will be able to learn a language to a certain extent even if the will isn’t there, but they’ll learn even better if sufficient motivation exists. As for students who lack a good memory but have the motivation to study, they can still learn a language although they may find it harder. The vital ingredient to successfully learning a language is neither purely motivation nor purely memory, but a good teacher who knows how to harness both elements. What better motivation can we teachers find to be successful! Now, how are we going to remember that?
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Hello and welcome to this very first blog entry on various matters relating to language in general and foreign language learning in particular.
I'm Marjorie, language teacher and owner of "Language Gateway", provider of personalised language tuition through online lessons and homestays/immersion courses. Understandably, I'm very enthusiastic about the importance of languages and the benefits they have to offer, and not surprisingly I have lots of things I'd like to share with you, ranging from the "sublime" - thought-provoking reflections on research into languages and the many benefits they can bring (apart from the ability to order the correct beer or wine when on holiday!), to the more "ridiculous" - personal anecdotes on language mistakes or misunderstandings I have personally encountered. I'd be delighted if fellow teachers, language professionals or keen students would like to contribute their own views, advice and hilarious stories as we go along. However, you don't need to be an enthusiast to have an opinion on language or languages - we all have our own way of thinking, gained from years of speaking at least one mother tongue, and most of us have memories - good or otherwise - of learning another, so please do share your views and experiences as well. The wonderful, and in my view fascinating, thing about languages at the end of the day, which makes them stand apart from any other academic subject we study at school, is the fact that above all else, they are communication vehicles enabling us as humans to connect with others. So, here's to meaningful communication!