Tongue tied in Tirana.

Good morning, and welcome to the first post from a British volunteer. My name is LJ, and I shall be your blogger for this evening. The emergency exits are here, here and here, please keep your arms and legs inside the aircraft and thank you for travelling with us today.

This evening we had our first Albanian language lesson, and it brought to my mind a few things about language and language learning, including an old hatred of mine, language teaching in the British education system. The class has already started to split, those who already speak two or more languages laughing and asking questions, the mono-lingual muggles such as myself sat as silent as the grave and looking so confused you would think we were trying to understand the plot of the third Matrix film. I did manage to write a sentence in Albanian, by combining two sentences from the written material, but if I wash my hand I will lose all that I can remember of the language. That sentence by the way is “Mefal, nuk te kuptoj une jam budalla” (apologies for the spelling to any Albanians reading this) which translates as, “Sorry, I don’t understand, I’m stupid”. This I feel is something I will be saying a lot.

I think a major part of the problem with British people learning other languages is not actually laziness, as many people (especially the French) claim. It is simply that we do not know how to learn a language, even our own. (Warning: This is an old hatred of mine, I can talk about it for hours, so you only have yourself to blame if you choose to keep reading).

I am a writer. I have had poetry published, I have produced a distinction level masters thesis, I have a grade A English Language GCSE, I was a journalist with a monthly column as well as individual stories for 6 years, for 4 of those years I held an editorial position. I am good with English. But I have no idea what a verb is. Or a noun, or an adjective, or a past participle or present injunctive or any of the technicalities of language. I have no idea what these are in my own native tongue, how can I spot them in a foreign one? I was never taught how a language is constructed, the building blocks of it. I was simply told this is right, this is wrong and was forced to repeat it over and over and over again until it stuck in my brain. The result is that I can read a sentence written by a non-native speaker and see that it is wrong, but I have absolutely no idea WHY it is wrong. Sure I can correct it, but just don’t ask me why its correct. With no idea of how our own language is constructed, is it really that hard to understand why the British have the lowest number of multilingual people in Europe? We simply don’t know how to learn a language. Learning English properly, and learning a foreign language such as French or German BEFORE the age of 14 (when I was first taught French) so that you can learn it whilst your brain is still open to language learning would be so much more useful to us. Unfortunately, since I am 24 and still don’t know how I learnt my only language, I fear I am going to struggle to learn any new  language at all, ever.

In addition I do feel that languages could be taught in a less confusing way. Albanian, like French and, I imagine, many other languages, has several words that mean the same thing in the same tense, depending on if the word follows I, you, he/she, they etc. Now I don’t know about other people but for me it is this changing around all the time that really really confuses me. Surely it would be better, and much less confusing, to simply teach all the words that follow I first. Then move on to all the words that follow You. Then all the words that follow He/She. So instead of learning Une Kam, Ti ke, Ai/Ajo ka, Ne kemi, Ju keni, Ata/Ato keni (I have, you have, he/she has, we have, you have, they [male/female versions of they] have) we should learn all the words that go after I, Une kam, Une jam, (I have, I am) etc etc, then once we are comfortable with those start to learn the words that go after you, Ti ke, Ti je etc etc (You have, you are). This would be so much less confusing.

Ok, I have had my little say. I hope my next blog post is a little less ranting and has a bit more actually to do with Albania. Until then, thank you for flying LJ Blogs, we hope to see you again soon and please mind your head as you leave the aircraft. Ciao.


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