Learning languages…and a cognitive disruption

Language. That wonderful instrument that either join us or tear us apart. This is what gives us a lot of cultural and personal background. Language wakes a lot of emotions in us, we can play with it, sing it, cry it or laugh it.

I will take myself as a vivid example of how wonderful and yet challenging languages can be.

I was born as the first generation after dictator Franco in Barcelona. 1976 was the year when we suddenly got to speak our language without being prosecuted: Catalan. Have you actually thought how many people are prosecuted by actually speaking a language that the majority wants to controll by erasing it? Anyway, I was actually so lucky of growing with two sister languages, Catalan and Spanish. At the 3. grade I was able of writing and speaking both of them without any grammatical fault (standing ovation for me, thanks, at that time English was also in our curriculum).

I have never made any big differences between them except for the grammatically obvious. In the same dinner I can speak both of them fluently, and my brain and senses don’t make any difference. Until somebody who doesn’t understand one of both languages actually remarks that they miss part of the conversation…oh, well, I get it. Then I get the cognitive remark about us speaking two different languages. Conciousness!.

At the age of 16 I actually chose to study both Latin, ancient Greek, French and German…wonderful tools that I chose to use as a puzzle. Every language has similar pieces, you just use them in different positions. Again, you build them differently to get the same result.

That is why I actually chose at the age of 27 to stay in Norway. Norwegian is, as many other languages, a fantastic tool that helps you understand part of their culture. The great challenge comes when you try to learn languages at an adult stage. Why is it?

Well, my humble opinion as a psychopedagogist is that languages are not challenging itself. Our fears, fear for failure and fear for ridiculous situations are. They stop us. But when I came to Norway I actually trusted in many evolutional psychologists and parked away all my fears and prejudices. I just didn’t care, I wanted to learn it.

Going to the postoffice was my first assignment: I pointed and said “Tre frimerker” (Three stamps). The saleswoman understood and replied with an awfully long and difficult question. “Ok then”, I thought, let’s try with the typical and useful “Jeg forstår ikke” (I don’t understand). And of course she replied (again) with some neverending sentence…this time the difference was that I turned my brain into “Catch-familiar-words” modus.

We all have that button, the more languages you speak, the bigger than button is, but everybody has it. Children have it turned on at all time, no interruptions. They communicate with each other not just by speaking words but using the whole body. And our body is the same in any language, as long as we know.

So, in my own linguistic experiments to learn Norwegian I tried in different situations, starting with two-word sentences to several words, asking questions, but the most important thing: without books.

I learned the Norwegian language after my own needs. As a pedagogist I have to tell you that this books to learn foreing languages are built with the best intentions after the worst schemes. And why is that? Because since language is a tool, every person uses it in different ways and we have different priorities. We should think about how infants learn languages comparing to these educational books. I have to admit that I get a strong cognitive disruption every time I try to learn any language after other people’s order.

A 2-year old doesn’t go around asking where is the grocery store or if you read the last news. Our linguistic development goes from concrete to abstracte, from simple to more complicated. And those books aren’t usually build up like that.

Adult learning books are build on overuse of memory and fast sentences that in many cases, makes no senses for one person trying to learn a foreign language.

So back to my own experience, though at the begynning I felt like a baby pointing, smiling and making simple sentences, I survived. I actually got children discounts on the bus because I couldn’t understand what the driver meant and I helped others with their own learning in Spanish every time they tried: “Hola señorita, una cerveza por favor”.

After ten years of living in Norway people still asks me if I write my own job applications in Norwegian, they still point easily my grammatical errors or tell me how good I am in Norwegian. It all depends on the weather, I guess.

But my neurones are still developing and I see my seek towards language perfection as an opportunity for growing and understanding more…and for me it doesn’t matter what language you speak or if you speak at all.

Communication goes beyond what it is said.


3 thoughts on “Learning languages…and a cognitive disruption

  1. Great post!
    I´m also very keen on languages and other cultures. I think I´m going to enjoy your blog.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s