Thursday, 12 February 2015

How to learn a language - key language learning tools for successful learning 2

To get to the most out of language learning, your learning must serve a purpose. By identifying your purpose in language learning, the drive to learn will only be strengthened, and this therefore is a key tool. A sense of purpose is a highly important key tool, no less. It's worth sitting down and looking at why you may want to learn a language, so we'll go through a few reasons here to help define your purpose for learning.

The most obvious purpose for learning a foreign language is for a holiday. Many holiday destinations around the world can be enhanced by learning a bit of the local language, to improve relations with locals, build friendships, and learn more than you otherwise learn about the place which is not ordinarily accessible to those holidaymakers speaking only English. I always try to learn a bit of the local language, even if just a few words, as a courtesy.

You may find that, with the world getting smaller, there are members of your family or circle of friends who don't have English as their first language. To facilitate inter-cultural understanding, learning their language can help,  You may also wish to bring up your child to be bilingual. I am proud to count many people amongst my friends and family locally and globally whose first language is not English and who are bilingual or multilingual.

One of the first arguments against learning another language is that everyone apparently speaks English, but having travelled widely to countries on three continents, I can easily confirm that's not true. Even in countries which are popular tourist destinations for English-speaking people, once you take even just a few steps into a side street away from the beaten track, you soon encounter a wonderful world where English may not be spoken. By struggling with a few phrases of faltering French in a restaurant in a back street in the Montmartre quarter in Paris, we got better service than the British couple on the next table who insisted on doing everything through the medium of English in the middle of the Francophone capital. My wife and I have been able to get a far warmer welcome through usage of foreign languages. We have even gotten a better deal in some shops in some countries because we were able to negotiate prices at a basic level in the local tongue. We are usually able to learn more than we would otherwise have learned if we had only been bound by the limits of the English language and locals' capability to speak English.

One key purpose for learning a language is moving to another country. You may be moving to a country for a period of study, because the culture may interest you, your employer is sending you there to work, or you might be teaching English as a foreign language. Either way, you'll need to have some way to work out what the menu says when it's time to eat, or what the electric bill says when it falls through your door. I lived in China for six months during a gap year, and found myself having to pick up the Mandarin Chinese language very quickly!

You may wish to explore your heritage and identity through language. In Wales, Cornwall, the Isle of Man, Ireland, Brittany and Scotland, people are learning the ancient Celtic tongues (or reviving them, in the case of Cornish and Manx) to preserve and promote their unique culture and heritage. Similarly, with genealogy, if your family comes from central Europe for example and you are researching your family tree, it may be necessary to learn the old family tongue from several generations back.

There may also be some information in a language which you may need for study which is not so readily available in English. A bit of language learning can open up new avenues to you for research that were previously closed due to the language barrier. I spent a week in the Sorbian region of Germany in the summer 2007 in various museums, bookshops and libraries for a research project I was working on. Apart from a paragraph on the English language Wikipedia website, there were no materials available in English on my chosen field of research, so using German (and a tiny bit of Sorbian that I picked up in the week I was there) was essential.

Even if you don't go abroad, language skills are highly marketable and attractive to an employer, particularly if an employer does business abroad or is considering expanding into Europe or further afield. When I worked with the insurance field in vehicle accident management, I often was appointed by colleagues to examine foreign language insurance documents and driving licences and calling abroad to get vital information, cases which normally would not have been resolved so easily without my language skills. Languages can also open up business opportunities in parts of the world your company may not have previously considered.

The best part, though, about learning other languages is that that my efforts to speak another language have always been appreciated, and with a few words, bridges have been built. Nelson Mandela, the late President of the rainbow nation of South Africa said: “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.”

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Writing casting couch.... I think I need to work out how to use Pinterest...

I definitely need to use Pinterest. As I understand it, it's a place to clip pictures from around the Internet, collate them in one place,an online scrapbook, perhaps.

Why do I need something like this? As I write, I like to put faces to the movie in my mind, and play Work In Progress casting couch. In my mind for my current work in progress about the period leading up to 1066, I have a vibrant BRIAN BLESSED (whose name must always be typed in capitals, because he's so loud) playing the part of Earl Godwin of Wessex, with John Malkovich as King Edward the Confessor.

I'd love to share my imaginary casting couch with you (I've got a perfect actor who I've cast as Robert of Jumièges, the Bishop of London), but what with all the copyright issues of photos on various websites, I'm looking for a way to bypass this. Would Pinterest do the trick, do you think?

Sunday, 8 February 2015

How to learn a language - key language learning tools for successful learning 1

Having now spent several months learning Dutch, I think it is time to review what I have learned is essential for learning, so I will no longer be focusing solely on Dutch, but rather on language learning that can be applied to all languages.

People often ask me for the best way to learn languages, and it's not something I've often considered. However, having thought back over my studies with Dutch, and looked back over my learning of other languages, I believe I now can identify several elements which are essential for learning a language, and I'll run through them here in an occasional series here on the website, so stay tuned for further hints and tips.

Today, we look at the enthusiasm that can be found with....


Love is essential for learning. By love, I don't necessarily mean you have to have a girlfriend, boyfriend, lover, partner or spouse who speaks that language (although it can help!), rather you must find passion within yourself to drive yourself forward to study it each week, to get you out the door in bleak and dreary November (presuming you're in the Northern Hemisphere), or on an even colder January evening to your evening class, to ensure you are getting the most from your learning. Without the love or passion for your chosen subject, you will not actually care if you progress, and without caring, there is little chance for actual progress. Love your chosen language, and embrace all that there is to learn about it, language and culture.

Love will also drive you to go above and beyond, to start looking at other sources for material beyond those prescribed by whichever book you may be reading, or whichever course you may be studying. When speaking another language, you would not stick to one speaker only, so why stick to just one text book or course? Your love for the language and culture will drive you forward to explore this. I currently dip in and out of several text books for Dutch, the Michel Thomas Dutch audio course, as well as studying an evening class with an enthusiastic, vibrant, knowledgeable, BRILLIANT teacher. There is, however, so much more I can do for my learning, and my love and enthusiasm will drive me to find more ways.

Right now, I'm listening to Dutch radio, thans to the website Just a bit of music in the background, it gets me accustomed to the Dutch language. They just played an advertisement on the radio for an internet supplier, and although I didn't catch many details, I'm rather pleased to have recognised what it was about, at least.

So, ask yourself, before buying the books, signing up for the course, or clicking online to download the MP3s, just one very simple question:

Will I still give a damn about this language in three months' time to still be learning it?

Be very honest with yourself. It might sound harsh, but only continue if the answer is:

Yes, I will still have the love and the enthusiasm for the chosen language.

If you've answered YES!, you have the right mindset to go ahead! Love will find a way, love will overcome.

Congratulations and best wishes in your language learning.

Saturday, 7 February 2015

LANGUAGE - Newport Castle, onomastics, and Newport

It is now in the exploration of language that I return to my hometown, Newport, in south Wales, to explore the the name of the city itself and so touch on the expression of the city's identity through the naming conventions for the urbis. I draw for the following text of this blogpost primarily from an academic study I did in 2007, comparing the castles of Newport with the Ortenburg in Bautzen, Germany. The photo of the castle is my own, taken in August 2007, on a mobile phone.

 The role of the castle in Newport's identity is emphasised when one considers the linguistic aspects of the name of the city. The city is called Newport or (rarely) Newport-on-Usk in English, obviously signifying a new port and the city's links to the sea, as Newport originally was recording in 918 as “a mere fishing village with about fifty souls” (J. Matthews, 1910, Historic Newport, Newport-on-Usk, The Williams Press Ltd; p.84).

Casnewydd or (rarely) Casnewydd-ar-Wysg (Newport on Usk) is the Welsh name, harking back to previous naming conventions for the city, such as the Latin Novus Burgus(New Town), English New Castle and Welsh Castell Newydd(New Castle), from which the the current contractionCasnewydd derives (p.85).

For the Welsh aspects of the urban identity, closer ties have been kept onomastically to the castle. There has been some shift in identity in the naming conventions from the castle itself to the port aspect in English, although with the water-gate of the castle, there may be still be a nod to the fortification origin of the name.

In essence, in English it's a new port. In Welsh it's a new castle. The English name of the city thus portrays a different urban identity to that of the Welsh name, so we have two divergent identities onomastically displayed through the naming of the city, depending on which language you speak.

Saturday, 24 January 2015

Come along to the 42nd "42" Worcester!

42 image
On the 28th of January 2015, we celebrate the 42nd occurence of the genre fiction event 42 Worcester, and I'll be performing! 42 is one of the best spoken word events in the world, and is the longest continuously running spoken word event in Worcestershire, encompassing performance, poetry and prose. It's focused on genre pieces, encompassing Gothic, science fiction, fantasy, and beyond. It was the first event I performed at, and I am proud to say that it is the spoken word venue that I truly consider home.

It's been an interesting journey through the years since it started in March 2011, and has changed hands a few times, beginning with shining lights Glenn and Angela James, who started it all, then with the wonderful John Taylor, and is currently being helmed by the talented Andrew Owens and Polly Robinson. We have also changed location a few times, starting in the cellar of the Worcester Arts Centre, then to a local cafe (with a unfortunately memorable noisy fridge!), then to the friendly Lunar Bar in New Street, before finally outgrowing the venue and going downstairs to the much larger welcoming Drummonds in New Street.

All the way through, quality has been consistently high (apart from the puppets, which was... interesting...). It's probably one of the best nights out in Worcester, and I'll be performing there! I sincerely hope to see you all there on 28th, when doors open at 7pm, starting at 7:30pm, at Drummonds, New Street, Worcester!

More info on Facebook here.