Languages

Emergence

Age 30

Manifestation

I was always interested in languages. In high school, I was one of the best in the English class, less brilliant in French, and one of the last in Latin. It was all very much dependent on the personality of the teacher. The Latin teacher was our Sports teacher and had kicked me in the back once, whereupon I went to the doctor and got a certificate that freed me from sports altogether. It was clear that this teacher could not inspire me for the ancient language. 

The French teacher was a good-hearted fellow but boring to death, which is why I could not develop enthusiasm for a language I otherwise liked.

With the English teacher it was a special case. He was an introvert but a very good teacher, humble, soft-spoken, and intelligent. He told us he had worked in a candy factory in Britain for two years and had learnt British English there, which he tried to teach us. It was extremely difficult, but I kept my motivation, which was fueled pretty much by the charming personality of the teacher himself.

He was also the only teacher who somehow got in touch with my mother who came to the boarding only once in eight years. But I think the contact was triggered through the fact that he had invited me to his house and I was too shy to accept his offer, but told the director of the boarding about it, and he must have told my mother. Then to my surprise, as my mother never had anything good to say about teachers, she reacted differently this one time, and told me she had been in touch by phone with him, upon recommendation of the boarding school director. And that she found he was really a ‘nice person’ and had suggested to meet. He would come all the way to the capital and we would meet in a local café. 

I was surprised. This did not happen with any other teacher and also my mother’s reaction was so different than usual that I wondered how this could happen?

Finally we met and both he and me were terribly shy. Somehow we had in common this timidity, this introvert personality, and perhaps that also I have some gift for education and pedagogy, as he clearly exhibited it as a teacher.

I kept my interest in languages alive over the years, and expanded my knowledge. During my stay in Switzerland, 1983-1992, I got to learn French, not only for conversation and presentations, but also for writing, and audiobook, narration. After all, I had written my doctoral thesis in French, which had not been a minor effort and achievement.

Through my business in Holland, 1994-1996, I learnt Dutch, almost perfectly, both for speaking and writing. Subsequently, my business activities in Indonesia (1996-2002) and Thailand (2011-2012) got me to speak a decent Bahasa, a less decent Thai; but I definitely had a new interest in Asian languages. To my shame, I must however admit that I never made it through learning Khmer, despite the fact that I stay in Cambodia now since 2004, and thus for 16 years. I learnt a bit from my airport taxi friend, a bit from a maid, a bit from a girlfriend, but I never worked through the book I had purchased, which was, as all of my language learning devices, from Assimil.

Assimil is a unique pedagogy for learning foreign languages, based on our intuitive understanding of languages. When we first learn our mother tongue, our brain picks up whole patterns from the language spoken around us. Thus we do not learn separative elements of a language which is the key for fast learning and also the key for not developing an accent. All of this is of course disregarded in traditional language teaching, which is pretty much mechanistic in its overall setup and teaching strategy.

The Bulgarian psychiatrist Dr. Georgi Lozanov wanted to change this state of affairs back in the 1960s and developed Suggestopedia. It was a very special way of learning a language, requiring a presenter who by preference is an actor or at least somebody trained in narration. This person would then simply recite texts written in the foreign language and the audience would sit in comfortable arm chairs, equipped with headphones connected to the presenter’s mic. They would listen to slow Baroque music and the narration would be synchronized with the rhythm of the music (around 60 beats per minute). The audience is told not to consciously listen to the narration, but to put their attention to the music, so that the narration would be the ‘background hiss’ to the music.

The method was called Superlearning once it was discovered by language schools in the United States, but it never become popular, reserved for diplomats who need to learn a foreign language in less than two months, which the method allows to achieve.

Assimil may be less effective than Superlearning but it is definitely more affordable. I used it for learning the basics of Greek, Chinese, Japanese, and Vietnamese, and for leveling up my Spanish, Italian, Portuguese.

While I have studied the first chapters of the Khmer course in the meantime, my Assimil editions for Russian, Hebrew, Ancient Greek and Latin are so far largely untouched.

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