In the last couple of months, I have been places where I speak next to none of the local langauges. This deeply frustrates me! I would love to be fluent in any number of languages and see how the nature of relationships change when you are speaking in someone else's language rather than their speaking yours. I am incredibly lucky to be a native English speaker though, of course, that came at the expense of a beautiful language that still enthralls and captivates me, the more I hear of it.
I've also just finished a book on learning languages: Fluent in Three Months. It's a great read, and it highlights to things I want to share. The first is that over half the world's population speak more than one language. This really came home to me when I did an exercise with my students who, at the time, came from Asia, Africa and the Carribean. We were asked to organise ourselves into groups according to the number of languages we spoke. All the white Western folk were in the one or, at most, two languages camp. Some Africans were in four plus. We make excuses in Britain and Ireland about lacking the necessary gifts for languages when, the fact is, our privilege means that we can choose not to acquire other languages.
Which brings me to the second point: human interaction. I was taught languages the old-fashioned way, with grammar and writing the fore. My last five years working with International Students have taught me that listening to spoken language is by far the hardest skill to home and must be prioritized to give confidence. I know that I give up in a foreign situation too quickly because I cannot make out what the other person is saying and get embarrassed and tongue-twisted. Benny Lewis knows that epxerience all too well and so encourages human interaction as the key to language acquisition. In an increasingly interconnected world, this has become much, much easier.
So, once I have mastered/mistressed touch-typing, I'm moving straight onto learning from Sinhala ...