Learning More Lingo…….

Many Britons are turning to learning languages like never before, according to the Guardian Newspaper. French is one of the most popular choices, as many adults have taken up an online language course during lockdown. The timing does seem at odds with recent events like Brexit and Covid stopping overseas travel. With our recent exit from the European Union, should we be saying a very firm and British Goodbye? Yet for many in the UK, it seems that on our departure it is more a case of Au revoir.

Academics maintain the recent upsurge in language apps in Lockdown, shows a pent-up interest and wish to study languages. For a nation supposedly averse to speaking other languages, the British have been turning in large numbers to foreign tongues as a first resort in the absence of more traditional forms of entertainment and communication.

It shows there are a lot of people who want to learn a language. It’s surprising how often you meet people in all walks of life who are taking language courses. But many people have been put off by unrealistically difficult exam syllabuses at school, GCSE and A level papers are too demanding and grading is too harsh when compared to other subjects. Oxford Professor Katrin Kohl

Formal language learning in our schools has declined substantially over the last 15 years, but there are some signs of encouragement. The British Council’s annual Language Trends survey showed a marked increase in children who took French or Spanish at GCSE in 2019, although A-level entries were still down. It would be great if parents could encourage their children to see the importance of learning another language. In 2018, 96% of pupils in upper secondary education in the EU’s 27 countries learnt English as a foreign language. In a majority of EU Member States, more than three fifths of all upper secondary education pupils were learning two or more foreign languages.

One of the most rewarding aspects of the human experience is our ability to connect with others. Being able to communicate with someone in his or her language is an incredible gift. Bilinguals have the unique opportunity to communicate with a wider range of people in their personal and professional lives.

Despite the decline in schools, adults continue to value language highly, the British Council found that during the lockdown, 10% of adults in the UK began learning a foreign language or returned to one after a break. A third of those surveyed said that Spanish was the most important language for young people to learn, followed by French at 20% and Mandarin at 18%. Thousands more are learning Spanish, German, Italian or other EU languages, with some of them hoping to improve their language skills to a level where they qualify for citizenship of a European country. Since British citizens no longer have the right to live and work in EU countries after the 31st of December 2020.

The UK is now one of Duolingo’s top five countries by the total number of daily learners, according to the app’s UK general manager, Colin Watkins, with a rise in new learners of 132% on last year. (Although it has to be added that we have always fallen well behind our European friends in learning another language in the first place) Events like Brexit and Covid plus cultural moments like the Olympics are driving the change, he said. “Brits now want to be better citizens of the world when we travel, when we do business, when we meet people in the UK.”

I was introduced to Duolingo by a work colleague in lockdown. And since June 2020 have been learning three languages every day.  I introduced my mother to this App and at 76 years old she is learning Spanish. I like the easy- to- use, fun format of Duolingo, I don’t think you could become fluent by this method alone, and I have combined a mix of CDs and books as well as the app. It’s surprising how much daily progress I have made.

I have long been embarrassed at how poor my own language skills and those of my fellow Brits are compared to my French, Spanish and German friends. To think that many ex-pats cannot speak the language of the country they live in is wrong on so many levels. Just because English is spoken in most countries is not really a valid excuse. Today, you can simply use your smartphone or other devices to translate everything on-the-go. But whilst technology certainly helps with communication, it will never replace personal interactions. Be warned, Google Translate is also not fully accurate!

Colin Watkins, from Duolingo, says that many of the 15 million people who have signed up to Duolingo’s online courses are not aiming to become fluent but to gain a basic level of understanding. As one of our first courses French was already very popular, so to see it make the top five shows new learners have chosen it because they want to travel there in the future, maybe want to do business, emigrate, or just pick up on what they learned in school.”

Other language learning apps are seeing similar rises. Memrise saw a large increase in new users in March, and 70% of people using its platform are learning Spanish or French, while German, Italian and Japanese are also popular.

The app, Babel helps its community remember the vocabulary they learn through six memory stages using “spaced repetition,” moving words through exercises that are arranged to aid retention. In bite-sized, 10–15-minute lessons, students have opportunities to gain skills in reading, writing, grammar and speaking in their target language in likely scenarios, especially for travel.

Yes, learning a new language is a big challenge. But if you can get in the right state of mind and you’re not looking for overnight fluency, the progress you make can make can make you feel incredibly proud. You do have to remain consistent for a few months to see some steady progress, but it is totally worth it and the more you do it the easier it gets. It’s also a great way to keep your brain in trim as studies have shown that using more than one language can delay the onset of dementia by four to five years. Benefits well-worth having, I would say.

Bon chance et au revoir.

The Great British Bake-Off

I heard some great news today. On Tuesday the 22nd of September its the return of the Great British Bake-off, complete with a new line-up. The wonderful Sandi Toksvig (like the equally wonderful Mary Berry) will be sadly missed. I am not a fan of reality TV, but once in a while something slips through the rubbish that is actually worth watching like; The British Sewing Bee, Painter of the Year and The Great British Bake- off. Anything that shows you a new skill is always good to watch and talk about!

Home- baking featured heavily in Lock-down 2020, flour was like gold dust as baking was seen as a great way of passing the time. Children learnt to bake with their parents, as I did as a child. The extra pounds gained from eating all these lovely sugar-filled treats was not so good. Now we are all have to eat less and exercise more to get back in shape, but it was worth it. My niece loves baking but takes what she makes into her workplace rather than eating it herself, much kinder to her waistline. Making her very popular with her colleagues too.

Before the Great British Bake-Off came to our screens. Home- Baking was seen as the domain of the WI, garden fetes and Grand-mothers. Now it’s for everyone and the marketplace is full of trendy, creative, youthful bakers, male and female. Even Waterstones has shelves full of baking books.

First aired on BBC Two on the 17th of August 2010, GBBO as it’s known as was an instant hit. I’ve become completely addicted. Whether it’s learning about the intricacies of the perfect pie crust, obsessing about soggy bottoms or lusting after the delicious cakes.

If you haven’t come across it before; the general idea is that ten home bakers take part in a bake-off to test every aspect of their skills as they battle to be crowned the Great British Bake Off’s best amateur baker. The series follows the trials and tribulations of the competitors, young and old, from every background and corner of Britain. They’re home cooks with a sense of humility and fun making them very likeable and watchable. Many past contestants have gone on to appear on their own series and produce books. Each week the bakers tackle a different baking skill. Cake-baking, pastry, bread-making and patisserie skills are all shown, ending with a showstopper which is the most creative. The tasks becoming progressively more difficult. Sometimes the results are successful and at times a total disaster. With lots of laughter and tears along the way. In a world where everyone wanting to be the best, it’s refreshing to see a group of people who genuinely cheer each other on. There’s a real sense of community and friendship, that does not feel forced. The spirit of kindness and niceness runs through the program. It’s no small thing in today’s world to be kind. But if a bunch of home bakers can bond over biscuits, it makes me feel like perhaps the rest of us can show a bit more kindness too.

It’s almost echoing back to a different era of tea parties, picnics and nostalgic Britain. Aprons, bunting and marques have all had a fashionable comeback. Home- made is seen as special and not more inferior than shop bought. Even the pretty hand-draw pictures that are used on GBBO have a special, unique character. I think that its a good thing to be nostalgic at times, particularly in such an era of uncertainty, anxiety and upheaval. Anything that makes you smile or reminisce about easier times can be uplifting. It’s not about looking backwards rather than forwards, but maybe some accepts of the past are worth returning to; making more ourselves, been happier with less, community, finding pleasure in simple things and teaching our younger generation to be able to make things etc. As I mentioned in my previous blog, statistics have shown we are less content now than in the 1950’s. It’s unrealistic to go back 60 years, but surely its worth considering why these were happier times and what can we learn. So as to change for the better. Happy Baking.

Finding a Hobby For Creatives

As I now have more time on my hands, I have been sorting through a large pile of magazines I was given and came across an interesting article. This was called Get a Hobby by Marisa Bate, a journalist and writer.

According to research from Sheffield University having a hobby unrelated to your job can make you happier at work and boost your confidence. I can see the truth of this and I would agree that doing something that is enjoyable and also absorbing enough to take your mind of things could be a godsend during stressful times. Whilst making or doing something unrelated to work can really help you to achieve Flow. (in layman’s terms-being in the moment)

The article stresses that this hobby should be for yourself, for your enjoyment rather than for results. Which is not to say that a hobby cannot lead to more, but in the first instance is more about having a go and enjoying it rather than by judging the results. I often hear people saying they have taken up a new hobby, and then follow though my saying they are not very good yet. Marisa, says that you should not judge what you do as good or bad, as its not a race. Now everything has to be posted to Facebook or Instagram so there is more pressure to show your best side so to speak. When you start something new, it takes time to learn and practice to improve.

As a creative person, I have worked as a designer and had my own crafts business, as a design student, at a highly competitive Art School, we were judged harshly on our design work often with a degree of cruelty. Producing design work of a high standard was instilled in me from an early age and it has taken decades for me to just have a go and not worry too much about the results. Having sold what, I produced also means having had to produce commercial work to a hard standard often to a tight deadline. Its fair to say at times I didn’t fully enjoy producing design or art work. However, this changed from doing craft projects with my nieces and nephews. Young children have such fun and love what they achieve naturally which we all should do!

I have drifted a little from the point, but doing something in a light-hearted non-judgemental way and having fun sounds like a great way to relive everyday pressures.

Creative folk, myself included in this are not always great at finding something which is not work related, as our work can become all absorbing and there is little time for anything else, particularly during a large project. I know myself I find myself looking through magazines and Pinterest and saving items that I can use later, rather that just in the pursuit of pleasure. Perhaps we need hobbies more than anyone?

I started and still write blogs as a hobby; this is more for myself that as a professional tool. I do write about subjects related to my work, I didn’t for many years of blogging link this to my website or social media, I wrote because I enjoyed it. Some of my first blogs were really bad, but with practice I got better and are still getting better.

I guess my last words are to have fun and don’t be too hard on yourself.

Scrapbooks for Adults

iPiccy-collage scrapbook

Hello from lockdown, we all wish we had extra time to do the things we would love to do if we had more time. Now we have plenty of time on our hands!

Since I was a design student a few decades ago, I have kept scrapbooks, I still have some of the orgional items I started collecting. More recently I have been using pinterest, which is great fun as well as a quick and easy way of finding images. However, there is something quite special about cutting up articles and actually sticking these into a book.

Maybe this is like going back to childhood, certainly it makes more mess! But still it’s a great way to kill a bit of time and have fun.

Why not give it a go, you might even enjoy it!