French Language

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Re: Hopeless!

Interesting point. For those that teach French: is it a given that older people have a harder time learning a language/retaining it?
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Re: Hopeless!

The oldest person I have taught a language to was in their 80's, the youngest probably about seven. The differences are partly about motivation, and partly about entrenched habits and beliefs.
As I said way back on page 1 of this thread, one thing which becomes apparent when teaching adults is that they want to have conversations about adult things, in an adult way. It is very difficult to accept that you need, in the early stages at least, to use the grammar and vocabulary you have, rather than the grammar and vocabulary you would LIKE to have. So, many adults do struggle in the beginning with the frustration of knowing WHAT they would like to say, but not HOW to say it. And it is difficult for many to break that link, or indeed to stop themselves from trying to think what they want to say in their own language and then searching for a translation - translation being another skill set altogether and not a good route for beginners.
Some adults can't reconcile themselves, either, to the idea that its almost better not to try to understand WHY things are done in a certain way in another language, but just to accept that that's the way it is. It goes hand in hand with translating. If you try to match everything up with its equivalent in your native language, you will always be struggling. Children learn by mimicry and blind acceptance, not by understanding conjugation, word order or other grammatical issues. It is hard to stop yourself, as an adult, from doing these things, but it's one of the main barriers. Learning by seeing patterns in things is often useful, because even if you are more scientifically-minded, the mathematical aspect of the patterns often helps.
Sure, some adults struggle more than others, and age can (but doesn't have to) be a constraint. As I also mentioned, there is a misconception that "fluency" and "accuracy" are the same thing. It is better to concentrate on speaking - and accepting that you will make mistakes - than on getting everything spot on, but many adult learner s are inhibited by the thought of making mistakes. If you DO make mistakes, it isn't the end of the world. And having a laugh about them is the best learning of all!
Last thing I'd say: if you come across a foreign person speaking English badly, what's your first reaction? Do you immediately dismiss them as stupid or a bit thick? Or do you applaud them for giving it a go? I'd bet the latter. And that's what people from other countries think of us if we are trying. So there's no shame in having a go and getting it wrong, yet it's one of the main reasons adult learners feel inhibited.
Don't want to end up a cartoon in a cartoon graveyard.
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Re: Hopeless!

Thanks, Betty. Your last point was interesting also: as I mentioned earlier, the French I talked with on holiday last month using my one year of study could not have been more encouraging. I had to dive in head-first, given no-one spoke English, and and nervous as I was at first, the fact I was communicating and getting comprehensible answers back gave me more confidence to do more.

I also got the gist of a number of replies without understanding a number of the words, by knowing enough and getting it from the context.

Step by step...
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Re: Hopeless!

Thanks Betty for a really constructive and helpful post. Much of what you say is echoed by my own experience in learning a foreign language from scratch as an adult. I find that my O-level French helps me in picking up the language after more than 50 years away from it. Personally I find that once I jump in and start talking French I seem to be able to make myself understood even if I am far from fluent or accurate. Each minor triumph helps to build confidence.
"There are some causes worth dying for - there are no causes worth killing for" Albert Camus
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Re: Hopeless!

 Chris wrote:
Interesting point. For those that teach French: is it a given that older people have a harder time learning a language/retaining it?


I couldn't tell about other languages, but my experience of trying to teach French to older people (which has only been English-speaking older people in France, and that is the first proviso) is that yes, it seems they have a harder time learning it and retaining it . But this might be skewed, since my point of comparison would be with younger people in England, learning French for a job; an exam, etc. I have never taught "older people" in England.
So, those older English speakers I have taught in France have been expats, or longstay American tourists.
Overall, the students who seemed to have learnt or retained the least, taught either in group or one-to-one, are British expats. I found that "the French class" has been for many, little more than another social occasion, with the illusion that "just going to the class" would be sufficient to imbibe the language - as if by osmosis. I must emphasize that it is not true of everyone. I have also had some rather diligent students, and those tended to be the the ones who also joined associations where they would mix with French people exclusively.

Most older people complain about their memory: (who was that actor, and what was the film again?). I am sure that declining neurones can't make it any easier to learn another language, and I do feel for those who end up in old people's homes where the spoken language is not their native language, but that is another issue.

Older people are so much more stuck in their ways, not as adaptable or flexible, probably more closed off to new experiences, and that must be a factor too. With many of the older people who at first seemed very determined to learn the language or improve their use of it, I found that the initial motivation seldom lasts. After a while, when they have discovered that they can, actually, get by, their brain seems to shut down, and they'd much rather get together with their other expat friends around a daily apéro - barring the odd interaction with madame next door, or with the plumber.

Cynical, moi??? No. I still believe that if you really, really want to learn, you can - but it might be a bit like giving up smoking: nobody can do it for you:

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Re: Hopeless!

And there, 5E makes one of the most important points of all. Language learning and indeed teaching bears no relation to, say, taking your car to a garage. For the latter, you drive up, let the mechanic do the work, and drive away with your car fixed. No effort on your part, and little contribution other than financial. Nobody can teach you a language without your own effort and commitment playing a vital part. Many adults show up once a week to a class and assume that their presence will be enough, and the teacher will magically stuff their heads with everything they need to succeed.
The question I am most often asked, and most dread, and the one most often asked by what turn out to be the least committed students is, unfortunately, " how long doYou reckon it will take till I am fluent?"
Don't want to end up a cartoon in a cartoon graveyard.
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Re: Hopeless!

I'm sure I've told this story before but if it helps to stop people from feeling embarrassed if they make a mistake I'll tell it again.

I needed to cut a piece of wood so I had to borrow a saw. For those that don't alraedy know that's une scie in French.

Jacko must have been (he's dead now) the happiest drunk in the whole of France so I asked him if I could borrow a "ski".

He looked at me in a very puzzled way so I repeated the request. He then proceeded to give a good imitation of a downhill skier whilst I pumped away furiously with my clenched fist. He finally calmed down and stopped laughing long enough to explain my pronunciation howler.

You're never going to be right all of the time: just get on with it.






Benjamin

A MEAL WITHOUT WINE IS CALLED BREAKFAST


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Re: Hopeless!

And as an aside which you may (or not) find interesting, did anyone watch the 2 part documentary on Channel 4, shown over the past couple of weeks, called "Why don't you speak English?"
If not, I commend it to you and am sure you can pick it up on 4OD or maybe it will be shown again on 4Seven or another channel.
In short, it took 4 migrants to the UK who spoke little or no English, and sent them to live with 4 ordinary English families - none of them teachers - for a week, following which the "teachers" spent a week with their students.
IMO, it put into a very stark perspective the difficulties faced by anyone trying to make their way in a strange land without the language skills to do so, and gave the lie to any preconceptions about the ease with which you can "pick up" a foreign language by the simple expedient of living in the country. As you will see, if you take time to find and watch it, all but perhaps one of the participants were motivated, and none of them particularly old. Compare and contrast with the Brits, who can go almost anywhere on earth and find someone to bail them out in their own language, and you begin to appreciate that being born an English speaker is an advantage we take far too much for granted. It also means that, as an English speaker, one can always have the luxury of giving up trying to learn another language if it gets too hard. Meet some people for whom that isn't necessarily an option.
Don't want to end up a cartoon in a cartoon graveyard.
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