Sunday, 21 June 2020
Yesterday I was talking to a friend about babies and learning languages. I am not a natural linguist. Even my own native tongue was a bit of a struggle and my parents sent me to elocution lessons where I learnt to say things like
Knobbly knees, knobble knees,
Bend a little, if you please,
Whether knees are thin or fat,
They should bend as much as that,
So knobbly knees, knobbly knees,
Bend a little if you please.
I could keep my parents entertained for hours repeating such rhymes, we all got our moneys' worth from those elocution lessons.
How useless I was at languages was brought home to me with a bang when I started secondary school. We had been on holiday to France, camping, the summer before I started secondary school. My father whizzed us round France getting by with a few phrases. We arrived at aa hotel, 'un chambre', we wanted to leave a restaurant, 'l'addition' and so on, My brother and I gazed at him in awe as he shrugged his shoulders, smiled and immediately everyone knew what he wanted to say. We learned a lot about the art of communication from hi. 'It's not what you say, it's the way that you say it,' was one of his most often repeated phrases. Sometimes he would use the dog to illustrate his point. In a cross voice he would say' you are a beautiful dog', as if by magic she would skulk into her basket, looking chastened. Then he would say' you horrible smelly dog' and she would bounce out of her basket and run round the kitchen and look at us in adoration.
My first French lesson at secondary school then. The teacher asked us to write down all the French we knew. Eagerly and confidently I wrote;
San Fairy Anne (Ca ne fait rien)
Kel er ay teel. (Quelle heure est-il?'
After all, these were some of the phrases I had heard all summer. They sounded good when my father said them.
Imagine my horror when I saw how they were actually spelled.
I have spent most of my life in a country where I do not use my mother tongue, my native language on a daily basis. Most of the English mother tongue speakers I know do not live in England, our English is stuck in a time warp. We do not naturally say things like, '24/7 or furlough, or I'll go for the tuna in breadcrumbs with a sliver of parmesan and a side dish of rocket salad. We were brought up with scampi and chips, gammon steak and smoked haddock for tea, boiled egg with soldiers and peaches from a tin.
Back to my friend and the bi lingual brain. I haven't got one. I speak old fashioned English and Italian with an English accent and still make mistakes which cause laughter.
In the last forty years mixed marriages over Europe have become very commonplace. It's not rare at all to have two parents both speaking a different native tongue and living in a country that neither of them were born in. Their children could easily grow up speaking three of four languages quite effortlessly.
What effect does this have on the human brain' Does it make a difference or not? Is it a good thing to have one mother tongue and then learn other languages? Does it matter?
As in all things it's good to be light hearted but not superficial.
I have come a long way from what my friend was telling me.
She told me about the Chinese alphabet which is based on imagery rather than sounds and the Japanese alphabet and the difference in the brain.
I must have switched off then because I got a bit worried about my own brain and the humiliation of writing 'San Fairy Anne' came back to me and even after all these years it makes me feel such a failure, or as my dad said often in France when people looked at him in puzzlement, 'Jazz we stupide' 'Je suis stupid'.
However does it matter? As my dad said 'it's the way you say it not what you say.' Communication is what's important.
Monday, 11 May 2020
So many times in life you might think that if you don't think about something it will go away. So many times we have heard things like 'You made your bed, now lie in it'. 'Roll up your sleeves and get on with it,' ' idle hands make fretful minds.'' It's nothing that a bit of hard work won't cure, ' 'Look on the bright side, ' you've got too much to think about, ' 'You haven't got enough to do,' 'everyone back to what they were doing, ' etc etc. I am sure you can come up with many of your own that people have told you over the years.
The point is that we are constantly urged to have something to do, something to get on with to take our mind off our worries.
In these troubled times many of us have turned to social media for comfort. Some of us might sent videos, quotes, inspirational thoughts that in normal times would have been an intrusion into our days. To sit down and watch entertaining videos that last anything up to five minutes thirty times a day would be too time- consuming. Now however it is a comfort, a welcome distraction and a sign that someone is thinking of you.
Of course there is nothing funny about the reason we are all staying at home and avoiding each other, quite the opposite, it is tragic. Yet we can find solace in humour.
Thank you everyone who has sent me videos that have cheered me up and made me feel less alone.
Tuesday, 21 April 2020
Here are two poems for today, both written in troubled times. Poetry seems to speak straight to the soul and poets great gift is to comfort us and speak to parts that need help-
The first one is by Siegfried Sassoon (1886 - 1967)
He witnessed the horrors of the First World war but wrote this poem about the beauty of bird song.
Everyone suddenly burst out singing;
And I was filled with such delight
As prisoned birds must find in freedom
Winging wildly across the white
Orchards and dark green fields; on; on; and out of sight.
Everyone's voice was suddenly lifted,
And beauty came like the setting sun.
My heart was shaken with tears; and horror
Drifted away… O but every one
Was a bird; and the song was wordless; the singing
will never be done.
the second one is by Patience Strong. Her real name was Winifred Emma May (1907 - 1990) and my mum loved listening to her poems. She wrote poetry during the Second World war to lift up people's spirits and give them hope for peace.
Forget the times of trouble but not the truths they taught.
Forget the days of sorrow but not the strength they brought.
Forget the storms you battled through beneath a heavy load
But not the Light that lead you safely down the unknown road.
I feel thankful to people who wrote poetry that sums up what we are feeling.
A poem a day, a laugh a day, something good to eat a day, a smile a day, a comforting word a day, day by day, one step at a time.
I will end on a light not with a joke
Johnny goes to the doctor
'Doctor, doctor, I keep having a recurring dream. First I'm a wigwam, then I turn into a teepee. Then I'm a wigwam again and then a teepee. What's wrong with me?
The doctor replies, 'It's very simple. You are two tents. ( too tense)