Speak my Language

It was perhaps a new years resolution, but this year I have made my mind up to learn a second language. I do want to learn a foreign language at some point, however I feel compelled to learn the language of my country first, Welsh. Perhaps because I have attempted to learn Welsh in the past and grown up in Wales, that I have some advantages in learning, so, after just a few weeks I feel as though I have made enormous progress.

The main reason I want to learn a second language is to broaden my thinking, away from the constraints of being a monoglot English speaker: Firstly because I often work with people whose use English as a second language, so having some experience of a second language myself, will help my communication skills and increase my awareness of how misunderstanding happen. Secondly, to be able to think in another language, to be able to express ideas in different ways. There is a third reason, I am a complete child who never really grew out of enjoying material aimed at children.  I have got to the point where watching children’s television programmes is useful, as I it also interesting to try and pick up a language in the way children do, for example use of songs and games to learn the colours, to describe the weather, the language used to instruct children in how to make artwork; all of which is very useful to a language learner too. So I watching a lot of the excellent children’s programming on S4C.

I’m using the ‘Say Something in Welsh’ course [Dweud rhwybeth yn Cymraeg!]. I have found this course to work really well for me, so I can heartily recommend it. I have tried various other courses in the past. The basis of the course is simple, a sentence is given in English, you then say it in Welsh before hearing it said by two Welsh speakers. What I like is that vocabulary is built up slowly, so you can concentrate on saying the phrases quickly, almost automatically, as a native speaker would. Other courses I have tried and studying Welsh in school focus too much on grammatical rules and building up grammar, before you have the basis of how to speak the language, which does seem the wrong way around. I have spent too much time trying to remember vocabulary, to the detriment of getting the patterns of phrases construction in my head.

I am now at the beginning of the stage where I have began ‘thinking in Welsh’ and understanding the literal or real meaning of words in the language itself, rather than simply translating, or constructing sentences using grammatical rules and remembered vocabulary. It feels like a massive breakthrough, to comprehend the idea that conceptually learning a language is not simply a case of finding exact equivalence of a phrase in another language. Such equivalence doesn’t exist, because different languages evolved in different ways. Commonly used words simply mean different things but can be used in a phrase to convey the same thought. So it is important at soem point to learn the literal or real meaning of a word in the language itself, here same language dictionaries, rather than translating ones come into their own.

What has helped me enormously in making this breakthrough is the language correction website ‘Lang-8‘. The concept of this site is that language learners post short pieces of writing in the language they are learning, then native speakers correct the language to how native speakers would phrase the sentence, correcting spelling and grammar along the way. Correcting the writing is lots of fun, I have found it to be quite addictive.It’s also incredibly useful to the people whose work is corrected, so you are doing a good deed, there is a real mutual benefit. Also it provides a forum for  communicating with people from around the world. Doing such corrections have helped me develop my ability to de-construct English, which helps with my learning of Welsh.

It is the realisation of the difficulties I and I’m sure most learners have, with prepositions. Prepositions such as: as, with, on, at, to, have, is, be, after, next etc. I have realised that the meaning of each preposition is different in each language. So, you should not even attempt to look for equivalence. for instance the word ‘have’ in English has so many different meanings and is used in many different circumstances, whilst Welsh doesn’t really have a word for ‘have’ in the English sense, rather Welsh has different ways of using all the different meanings for ‘have’. Really, as a native speaker I have a conceptualisation of a word such as ‘on’, but my use of ‘on’ is basically learnt from years of practice using yet. For example English speakers say: ‘The paper is on the table’, ‘the train is on time’ ‘the computer is switched on’ ‘I went for a walk on Wednesday’, the exact  meaning of ‘on’ in each sentence is different. It is this concept of non-equivalence is what i really didn’t understand, I wasn’t taught this at school, so it’s no wonder that people, such as myself, come out of British schools with poor language learning skills and have picked up habits that actually make learner a second language harder. You perhaps have to learn like children do, by learning to speak first, before reading and writing, so many language courses focus on reading and writing, before speaking or really understanding the basics of the language as they are used by speakers.





What was Anxiety?

Much of this blog has concerned facets of my overcoming anxiety, though I have perhaps neglected to explain what that anxiety was like.

I did suffer from anxiety for years and years, without quite knowing what it was. I think I would have become aware exactly what it was if I felt free to talk about it, to get concrete answers from outside my own head. I did perceive a reluctance from people to talk about it,  it wasn’t given enough respect, people didn’t want to discuss it in enough depth, which is understandable, it’s not a fun thing to talk about. Sometimes if I pushed it into conversation too much, people would often distance themselves from you. so, if someone has a chronic anxiety it is easily not addressed and the anxious person keeps it inside their own head, where it lingers and festers.

Anxiety is really merely a label to cover a complex range of mental phenomenas. In many ways it is simply over-thinking. I am a deep thinker, it is something I enjoy, however sometimes such a questioning nature leads to not only a paranoia about other peoples feelings and motivations. This paranoia also extends into ones own thinking, a constant questioning about whether you as an individual are doing the right thing, so one becomes paranoid about your own feelings and motivations. so because you are never really happy doing anything all the time, almost any activity becomes tainted by these paranoid thoughts. This anxiety used to rarely go away, so activities are rarely enjoyed, they just become part of the escape so the journey kind of stops, as you are always questioning why you are doing it and negative thoughts pervade everything.

This anxiety is like building a wall inside your own mind, where your personality is trapped and kept away from even the things you love, even your own memories as you can eb anxious about those too. For example I love reading, especially novels, however often anxiety and fear, the wall, keeps a distance between an enjoyment of the story and the simple act of reading.

Staying behind this mental wall, seems a terrible way of being, what it does offer is a safe place, an escape from a constant nagging anxiety. Reading in itself can be done from this safe place, however a distance is kept from the story. It’s like watching a film but not allowing yourself to fully engage with the plot. Now I am no longer anxious I do find myself bursting into tears during sentimental moments in films which I never used to do, becuse i am properly engaged.

Of course, sometimes this anxiety is escaped, with a close group of friends, people who knew me well enough not to be perturbed by my behaviour and I was free to express myself, or drinking alcohol, also helped with this as it stops you over thinking. Such escapes were always blissful and I wanted them to last forever, so sometimes, when enjoying myself I would be the last to leave the party. So, the anxious person, is always looking for the next chance to escape for a little while from it and then desire that moment to last forever. Problems arose when I would meet people, whilst escaped and then meet them again and I would feel overcome by anxiety, I would feel a fraud and taken over by worries of how to behave and what to say.

The anxiety spread into social anxiety, where in conversation I would constantly fret about being appropriate, not upsetting people, paranoid about how I was being perceived, whether what I was saying was correct, or influenced by negative ideas. There are parallels with the autistic spectrum, anxiety causes you not to understand how other people are feeling (because you are not really engaged in the moment) and act due to your own reasons, rather than reacting to what is happening live.

I was worried that people only ever saw me as seeking a relationship with them, when all I wanted was to talk and hopefully get to know someone well enough so felt I could be myself. As such, I gave out signals that I ‘needed’ a relationship with such people, whereas now I am not so concerned whether I am understood or not, i can have ‘normal’ inter-relations with people.

Anyway, I was able to make the escape permanent! What I needed was to be escaped from anxiety for long enough for myself to recognise it as ‘normal’, that i could exist in a more or less anxiety free state. I achieved this by spending months living and working in tropical forests, in Madagascar and Honduras, the long term blissful experience I craved came about, away from the constant need to interact with such a range of different kinds of people, or with people I shared some core beliefs with. I was happy, not anxious long enough to make sense of it, to feel like  ‘normal’ person.

Transitioning to being a unanxious person, was itself quite a journey. Whilst I felt free to be myself, express myself and fully engage with things I am passionate about, this exuberant newness, the zest of a new convert did seem overwhelming to other people, especially the people who helped me realise not to be so anxious. I don’t think non-anxious people quite get how someone can be so thrilled to just be ‘normal’ or accepted, healthy to be able to fully engage and concentrate on tasks.

I know that people can be disturbed by someone overly being open with them, because I still had the habits of an anxious person, who clings desperately to each escape and each person that helps them escape anxiety. Now free of anxiety that openness is always available and doesn’t just come out during a drunken evening. People seem to perceive this behaviour as seeking a relationship, which it isn’t. Really, the whole politics of social interactions are suddenly opened up and one quickly realise that your skills and knowledge are far behind everybody else, but that you are learning quickly. i’m also aware of lacking such development by being an only child in a family that had anxiety issues and was poor at expressing their feelings. I have realised to not be concerned about any negativity towards me, it is simply that they don’t know where I am coming from and react to my behaviour according to sets of social rules that have been developed with non-anxious people.



‘Starman’ 1947-2016 RIP

Let the children lose it

I was very sad to hear of the passing of David Bowie this morning, an artist I love whom has helped me understand this crazy world that little bit better. Listening to his music helps me feel that it okay to be perturbed by the world, that it is positive to let go and get angry at the world sometimes. Bowie was perhaps the most popular artist for all the outsiders of the world.

Let the children use it

I have also been heartened today by the outpourings of admiration and mourning of Bowie, by so many people. I simply wasn’t aware quite how many people’s lives Bowie has touched with his music. Bowie wasn’t a simple artist, he commented thoughtfully on so many aspects of life and he has helped lots of people use those reflections to make sense of their own lives. Bowie was, for an outsider, immensely popular, because the majority of people are outsiders in many various ways, so people used his music to help them understand that it was okay to be different and more importantly to openly express those differences. Really, it’s been a wonderful where all the fans and appreciate just how many of us there are of his music have been able to share their thoughts

Let all the children boogie

Of course, it wasn’t just the artistic expression of facets of life that made Bowie one of the true greats of rock music, it was the music itself. Bowie’s music whilst innovative still had great tunes, great bass lines and is music one can return to again and again and feel free to dance and fully embrace the music. Like how as people after reflection upon ourselves, confirming that we are ok as people, we can let those troubles go and have a good old boogie.

I was very lucky to see Bowie in concert in Seattle, USA, to dance to the music I grew up with on the other side of the world, in another country where their were many other people who shared in the Bowie magic.


Believing in Evolution

There is a substantial difference between knowing something and believing it. Belief is much more powerful as it goes beyond logic and connects with peoples sense of self.

This idea helps make  clear why there is a stigma about mental illness. The anxious person or the depressed person can know that they are ill, that it is possible to not be ill, often the problem is that they don’t believe that they can be well. I suffered from anxiety, there were brief times when I wasn’t anxious, instead of knowing I was well, I believed it was merely a temporary respite. It was when I believed that there was nothing wrong with me, when I believed what I already knew rationally, did I become well. so the mental illness stigma is perhaps because healthy people don’t recognise the difference between knowing something to be true and believing it. Perhaps for the healthy, they believe they are well before they have developed an explanation for why they are well, belief comes before knowledge in this instance.

As a scientist I both know and believe in the theory of evolution. I know, because I have studied, read and observed the evidence and accept evolution as a rational, empirically produced explanation for the diversity of life on Earth. I believe,  because I also accept the scientific process for discovering the laws of the physical universe, I accept the process as a valid way of generating truth.

Many scientists have difficulty understanding why those of religious faith lack a belief in evolution, indeed some of faith have difficulty believing in evolutionary theory. Religious faith is different to simple belief. Belief in God is different to beliefs about the physical universe, because belief perhaps comes before knowledge, rather than coming after knowledge. Religious belief connects to the self, before any empirical process of gathering knowledge. Faith concerns something beyond understanding of relationships in the physical observable universe. As a scientist I believe that it is possible for science to explain what God is, but that humanity may never establish a theory of everything. Sometimes, it is perhaps dangerous or less open to truth if belief comes before knowledge.

It is accepted that such theories as evolution or gravity are true. such truths can be established from raw data acquired from the physical universe. I believed these truths before I became a Christian and I know that there is no conflict between holding these beliefs in addition to religious beliefs, such as God having a role in the creation of the universe. The issue is perhaps that for some people the religious belief is more powerful to themselves than a mere rational piece of knowledge. To the atheist scientist, belief in scientific theory is more powerful than mere knowledge or understanding of religion, often atheists struggle looking beyond mere empirical understanding of the physical universe. To someone of faith, these powerful ideas can make the concept of evolution seem less important and hence less true. Yet people are not robots, they all harbour non-rational thoughts and ideas, the belief of humanists that there is perhaps, simply, that there is a physical explanation for these mental phenomena, but their belief may not be as strong as these less easy to break down logically ideas are not as fully explored, perhaps mentally acknowledged or as strongly believed. No individual person has a fully coherent explanation of themselves or the wider universe, yet every individual is on a journey to discovering truths.

I think I should point out, that I am in no way declaring any superiority for religious faith over atheism. What I am saying is that faith is worthwhile exploring. It is a question of balance, people choose what to invest our mental energies upon, there should be space for rational scientific inquiry as well as reflection on the question of faith.