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Learning curve

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Brandenburg Gate, Berlin

Brandenburg Gate, Berlin

For someone who loves words, I’m finding it incredibly difficult to learn another language. I always try to learn at least enough to greet people, say please and thank you, and order food and drink, in the native language of any country I visit. That’s just simple courtesy.

I learned French at school and, although I hated the subject, it’s the only foreign language that’s really stuck. I even remember gender and grammar rules. The rest came back very quickly on a three-week meander through France.

Italian I learned at evening classes, and got plenty of practice in Tuscany, staying in rural areas where English wasn’t widely spoken.

The problem is, as I cross the channel when the holidays are over, foreign languages, at least at the level I speak them, are redundant. It’s not as if I can pop into the butcher’s shop and ask for a pound of sausages in French. Any skill unused becomes rusty. Vocabulary is forgotten, even the sounds and cadences of sentences, so familiar just a short time ago, become alien and awkward, the shapes more difficult for the mouth to form.

Now I’m struggling with German. With only a couple of weeks’ notice, I can’t learn very much, but I did think I could pick up a few words of greeting and some useful phrases. I’m not doing very well. I read the words, I listen to the online pronunciation, I repeat the phrases. What I do not do is remember much of it a couple of hours later. I have got to the point where I can greet my husband in German as he comes home from work, but time is short, and I need more confidence before I air my few words publicly in the country of their origin.

I refuse to contemplate the thought that this is yet another symptom of getting older. I retain other information, why should language be any different? Perhaps there are just too many words already floating round in my head? All the story ideas, the scenes that characters play out in my mind, the planning and plotting. Maybe they are squeezing out the small voice that says Guten tag, pushing the words into a corner where I won’t find them. That’s the excuse I’m sticking to, anyway.

Back to the lessons….

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