India is learning French. She is 23 years old and studies in Cardiff.
How are you learning French?
I’m doing many things. I’m going to free classes through Languages for All. I speak with my housemate who is a French native speaker, and I try to speak every day. I use a website run by the University of Austin at Texas which features the adventures of two little armadillos who teach French Grammar, and I also use Duolingo.
Why is French important for you?
I already speak Spanish and I wanted to move on to something else. I also want to be an international journalist and both Spanish and French would be useful languages in this field. I also think it is a really beautiful language and I think reading in French is going to be a joy. I failed French in school and I’d like to succeed where in the past I failed. After French and Spanish the next language I want to learn is Arabic – I have a sequence planned.
Have you only recently thought about this sequence?
Yes and I’m in two minds about it. I started it because I did very well at learning Spanish and I realised it is possible to learn a language if you really apply yourself to it. However I disagree with people who call themselves polyglots. It’s not to say they don’t exist – my brother’s girlfriend speaks five languages fluently – but I have an issue with people who say they speak multiple languages but don’t have a level of fluency to them. I wouldn’t claim to speak Spanish fluently and I can converse in it for hours. I think I would rather have fewer languages and speak them very well than have a whole range of languages but less confidence in speaking all of them. What I want to do is get a really good grasp of French and Spanish and then move on to the other two languages I’d like to learn: Arabic and Norwegian.
Why do you want to learn Arabic and Norwegian?
One of my best friends is Norwegian and speaks beautiful English. I think it would be almost like a gift for her to learn Norwegian so that I could speak to her in her native language. And I think learning a smaller language which not many people would invest a lot of time in but which comes with lots of history and culture would be interesting. Arabic is for work and I think that today it is very pertinent with the migrant crisis. Maybe I could help those people more if I spoke their language.
How does Spanish help or hinder you in learning French?
It really helps because they’re both romantic languages. They’re very similar structurally as they share that Latin route, and the vocabulary looks very similar. I also think that having learned Spanish by myself I can learn from past mistakes. In terms of hindrances, when I try to speak French I usually speak Spanish without even thinking. I’ll start with all good intentions to say something French and then Spanish will just happen. I think it’s just a questions of practice and separating the languages in my mind. Additionally, the pronunciation is very different.
How did you learn Spanish?
For my 22nd birthday I asked for Spanish classes and I did a course for two months. Then I was finishing my job so I decided to move to Spain, which was not a sensible suggestion and I‘d advise that anyone moving to Spain go with more Spanish than I did. Once I was there I just became fixated on learning the language. I was desperate to learn. I said to myself that I wouldn’t seek out English speakers and that meant I learned a lot. People were very helpful and supported me in my goal to communicate and little by little I started making friends and watching films and making jokes and being able to participate. I enjoyed it so much. The English-speaking expat community in Spain don’t tend to speak Spanish very well and it was nice for me to become the token Spanish speaker.
What do you think of the stereotype that English speakers are bad at learning languages?
The British approach to languages makes me incredibly angry. I don’t think we try very hard to learn languages and so we are bad at learning them. There are a lot of different factors behind that: I don’t think we are taught languages very well, I don’t think we are very interested in learning languages, and there’s no impetus for us to learn languages because, as everyone says, the rest of the world speaks English. For me it’s really embarrassing how bad we are – though having said that I went through five years of French at school and had to do a lot of self-study to catch up when I started my French course, so I can’t talk. I’m not sure what we we can do to fix this problem. If we could stop the global dominance of Anglo-American culture maybe we would be better at languages!
What are your favourite words or phrases in French and Spanish?
The French word for dragonfly is ‘la libellule’. Also ‘je suis crevée’ which means ‘I’m so tired’. I have so many in Spanish: ‘la medusa’ which means jellyfish, ‘empalagoso’ which means sticky, are just two.
You can follow India on Twitter – @IndiaRGrant