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The desire to learn

The desire to learn - Stephen Bailey

Posted on: February 10, 2020

When I was at school French lessons were something to be dreaded. Classes seemed to consist of learning, or trying to learn, lists of irregular verbs written on the chalkboard, and being given tests on the vocabulary we’d been set to learn the previous day. During four years of this regime we never heard any recording of people speaking French, never watched a French film, listened to French songs or saw a French magazine. Needless to say, I’d never been to France, nor was I ever offered the chance to visit. Unsurprisingly, after (just) passing O-Level French I promptly forget everything I’d learned, and when I did finally reach France I found I couldn’t understand a word.

Today I can and do speak French, both in France and at home in England. It certainly isn’t perfect French, but I get by. How? Every week I meet about half a dozen people in the local pub for two hours of French conversation. We talk about what we’ve been doing, where we’re planning to travel to, and what’s happening locally. Some members of the group are better than others, but that doesn’t matter, as we enjoy the struggle to communicate. If all else fails, we can Google a translation!

So what’s the lesson from this? Firstly, you have to want to learn something – that’s half the battle. Secondly, you learn better by practising with other people; sharing an interest, because it’s more fun. You can ‘learn’ a language by listening to a CD or watching a video, and that can provide a basis of grammar or vocabulary, but a language only becomes alive when you’re telling a story or explaining a problem. Vive la discussion!