Sunday, 1 December 2013


Unfortunately not the perfume, or anything any more exciting than obsession itself. Though having said that there have been plenty of examples in the press or in films and so on that certainly have been exciting. This, however, has more to do with the English language.

I feel lucky to have been born speaking and educated in English. It means that having learnt it once it doesn't need to be learnt again from scratch. At least not unless there have been more than the odd beer or two in between musings.

I am watching a country around me go crazy for English, I often feel that what we never managed through conflict, we are now doing linguistically; though perhaps that in itself is a battle, and one that is often given up on at that. People have a sort of cabin fever for this crazy language where everything seems to be written in code, pronunciation is orientative at best, and people try to do their best not to have to talk to you in it if they can possibly avoid it anyway.

It all came about when we received one of the usual handful of pamphlets that seem to come streaming through the door these days, a vile pink invention that seemed to be covered in Purple Ronnie drawings. It was offering English courses in the now usual 'fun and exciting way, where you can learn by osmosis in half an hour and whilst you're doing the cooking' method. Then Sonia (my wife) looked at the bottom and brought my attention to the age group they were aiming their advertising at; it certainly wasn't what I was expecting. Apparently there are now courses and a 'method' that some clever person has come up with to teach English to children aged from zero to three years old. Zero...To...Three...Years...Old.

I'm not entirely sure that this isn't some sort of joke, but there does seem to be a phone number and a business address where you can send your month old baby to sit and fill their nappy in the most exquisitely English manner. Tea will be sipped and polite conversation will flow lovingly over their head as their infant brain gets the effort free route into speaking in the third person singular about themselves, just like the Rock. The worry only really starts to creep in when you see the price that this farce is going to cost you, and the fact that parents have to follow a method as well.

I agree that children can learn from an early age and that it is a wonderful thing to be able to see your child growing up in a bilingual atmosphere. To see how they go from being totally unable to communicate to seeing them turn to one person and speak in one way, and then to another and speak differently. I really do understand it, as I have seen it with my own kids and with those of other close friends in the same situation. What seems totally immoral to me is to use the current Spanish fashion to want to learn languages and then take it to that degree.

Showing off is not and will never be the aim of anything I ever write, but I went through school normally, was exceedingly lucky to have a native French teacher, but then didn't see any other native speaker of a foreign language outside of their own country until I was sixteen years old. It hasn't had any great effect on my life using languages, I can make myself more than understood in a couple, bimble along in another two, and read a few more due to romance languages all having common roots. I will admit that I'm a one trick horse and that it is what puts bread on my table, but I really don't think that I was in any way underprivileged to have been deprived of spending my infancy with a native teacher whispering into my ear and then later playing games with me.

One of the greatest joys of having kids is to spend time with them, though admittedly some of that time is spent trying not to throw them out of the window and buy a cat. If they want or need to learn languages then they will, more than the odd family friend did precisely that due to circumstance and they have done very well for themselves. Having a native teacher has its advantages, but it isn't the be all and end all of your education. Not everyone is taught by a world renowned poet in their language and literacy classes, but there are still people who go on to write books or publish poetry, or go on to text analysis and so on. There seems to be total lunacy here for English.

I suppose it comes from the Spanish feeling that they must be doing something wrong. No Spaniard can ever spend more than a minute talking about their country (particularly these days) without then going on to criticise it, and now that English has become an international language there has arrived a sort of furore for learning that has exceeded all of our expectations. I think that some people here need to wake up to the fact that their kids are brilliant because they are theirs, that they will grow and do well just as their parents did before them, and to trust in Spanish ingenuity to move forwards as they always seem to do - chaotically, intensively, working themselves silly but enjoying the ride.