Category Archives for "Language and Culture"
My wife’s cousin Anna, from Mexico, married a Dutchman, Ruudek (Ruud) and they now live in West Africa with their two children Elea and Ulysse. The children, ages 5 (Ulysse) and 9 (Elea) both speak 4 languages fluently: French, English, Spanish and Dutch. They even speak a smattering of an African language. Both children learned Spanish and the other languages without making any particular effort – just as children and many adults do all over the world. I’m amazed when I watch them switch easily from one language to another. Yet, they acquired those languages through the natural language acquisition abilities that all we humans have.
They both have attended schools where they received some formal language instruction, so they also learned French and English as well as acquiring it. Here’s how they are able to speak 4 languages today. Their parents met and eventually married in Paris where both were studying. Since neither spoke the other’s native language at the time (i.e. Dutch and Spanish), they spoke French and continue to speak French with each other to this day. When Elea was born they decided that it would be good if she could speak Spanish and Dutch, too. So Anna spoke to Elea in Spanish and Ruud communicated with her in Dutch.
When Ulysse was born a few years later, his parents continued the same pattern of speaking Spanish and Dutch with him. Of course, both children have also been hearing French in their home ever since they were born because their parents speak that language with each other. The family spent several years in an English-speaking West African country and both children picked up English from daily exposure to it from the nanny, from school and from playmates.
If you are reading this blog, most likely you are an adult. How can you or I learn from the example of Ulysse and Elea? Many people assume that children learn languages faster than adults, but it’s not clear that children really do have such an advantage – in fact the opposite may be true. However, t’s pretty obvious that Elea and Ulysse have the right conditions to learn languages.
I recently started watching the television drama from Spain called Gran Hotel and, I have to say, I’m hooked. The series, filmed over the last 3 years, consists of 39 episodes and takes place in Spain at the beginning of the 20th century. It’s reminiscent of Downton Abbey and is an interesting mix of drama, mystery, romance and comedy. The Gran Hotel (it’s titled ‘Grand Hotel’ in English) has won many awards (scroll to the bottom of this article to see a list) and is proving to be very popular in many countries. I found that it’s a wonderful way to acquire Spanish.
Palacio de la Magdalena, Santander, Spain, where Gran Hotel was filmed
What I like about Gran Hotel is that it’s very entertaining and I find myself engrossed in each episode from beginning to end. I’ve been watching the show on Netflix and their version has English subtitles. So I find myself glancing down to read the subtitles, especially when the actors are speaking rapidly. And at times some of the actors’ lines don’t have subtitles – which is a great opportunity for me to take in the Spanish and understand as much as I can (a subsequent subtitle usually clarifies anything I might have missed). This series provides an ideal way to improve my Spanish because it engages my mind in the drama so well, while exposing me to hours of Spanish – all in the context of lively action and a beautiful environment.
When I wrote about the book My Stroke of Insight by Jill Bolte Taylor earlier in the week, I didn’t have quite enough room to talk about all the things from the book that stood out to me while reading. Hence, installment number two. I think (and hope) that you, dear reader, will find it interesting, and that it’s more than me satisfying my desire to express all of the thoughts I had while reading a great book.
One of the things I love most about my job is meeting and interacting with all the different people that come in to use our print services. I recently had a particularly memorable pair of customers: a woman and her daughter-in-law. The daughter-in-law was an artist and wanted to have a portfolio of her work printed, a fairly standard product that we print for students and artists. What made this woman unique is that she spoke French and only a small bit of English. Her mother-in-law, who was with her, spoke English and translated for her. As a language person, I loved getting to hear a foreign language in my own workplace. As a Spanish speaker, hearing the French pronunciation made me appreciate the generally phonetic Spanish language (as opposed to the, well, not so phonetic French language). While a Spanish pronunciation guide is necessary and helpful when first learning the language, once you’ve gotten it down you’re generally good to go for any Spanish you encounter.