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.






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