The Beauty of Words

When I was researching about the use of words, I found an English Language and Culture Blog, it’s so fascinating to look at your native language (and one that you often take for granted) through some-else’s eyes. Words do have real power to express feeling. Their meanings shape our beliefs, drive our behaviour and create our world. When we read, speak or hear certain words it can stimulate our emotional responses. In fact, some of the most beautiful English words evoke feelings of happiness like Serenity which is a sense of calm and peacefulness.

I have been improving my skills in Spanish and French during the lockdown period. I find that Latin-based languages sound so beautiful, at times they almost flow along. I fully understand how French is said to be the language of love. The English language has borrowed from more traditionally beautiful languages such as French, Italian and Spanish and some of English’s beauty does come from its relationship to other languages. My Spanish friends add words like estupendo and magnifico into every day conversation. Yet in English conversation, more flamboyant language is generally only used by Thespians, Artists and enthused drama teachers. Other-wise it regarded as a bit eccentric. I found myself chuckling after reading a blog about learning to speak English and encouraging the use of, shall we say, more descriptive words. As I can imagine how mixed the responses to this would be!

But perhaps adding more beautiful words into our everyday speech is not such a bad thing. We do after all, have a truly beautiful language but don’t always use it, to its full advantage.

Here are some of my favourites, now I’m not fully sure how I am going to introduce these into my conversations, but a challenge is always good!

Quintessential from a Latin word describing something in its purest form.

Sumptuous from a French word meaning something that is lavish or wastefully expensive. Today, it describes something that is magnificent or seemingly expensive.

Cascade from the Italian cascare meaning to fall. Refers to water falling over a cliff or a similar situation.

Ethereal means something so beautiful that it simply cannot be from this world.

Succulent from a French word meaning juicy. (Cacti are called “succulents” because of how much water they hold)

Iridescent from the Latin word iris, meaning rainbow.

Serendipity refers to something positive that happens completely by chance. It was coined by writer and historian Horace Walpole in the 1700s and based on a Persian fairy tale.

Evanescence comes from the French word évanescent, meaning something that disappears to the point of becoming invisible.

Solitude: a state of seclusion or isolation.

Eloquence the art of using language in an apt, fluent way.

Aesthete is one having or affecting sensitivity to the beautiful especially in art.

Euphoria from the Greek word for healthy, is now used to describe an intense feeling of happiness or elation.

Cherish to hold dear or cultivate with care and affection.

Dulcet pleasant to the ear; melodious and soothing

Tranquillity being free from agitation of mind or spirit.

Who says English is not a beautiful, poetic language, with words like these. Eloquence is surely the only way forward.

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.

Paul Noble and Collins Books

If I need a dictionary or phase book then I always turn to Collins books. They have now joined forces with Paul Noble, the highly acclaimed English linguist with a language school in London.

Collins has been publishing educational and informative books for 200 years. Throughout this rich heritage they have held an impressive record in creating market-leading products across various sectors. With a database of over 4.5 billion words, they constantly monitor text from publications, websites and transcripts around the world to ensure their dictionaries are up-to-date. There is a free online dictionary at which provides a snapshot of world languages. Collins is the home to bilingual dictionaries and language learning products and now the Paul Noble audio courses.

Paul Noble acts as the instructor on his products, which are published through Collins. the languages are: Spanish, French, German and Italian- Chinese has now been introduced to the range.

My friend has tried the Paul Noble method to learn French and has found this a great way to learn quickly, the reviews are also very good. I saw Paul Noble on TV a while ago, where he was showing people how to learn languages and I was impressed by how easy and fun he made it look. I learnt French at school and have attended a couple of classes as an adult, which were a bit disappointing to be honest. I have also listened to various discs including linguaphone. I am not quite a beginner, but I am certainly no linguist and I would love to be better at these. Learning a language is also supposed to be good for your brain power, which is an added bonus.

Now is it possible to learn a language in just one day? The Express newspaper sent a reporter along to meet Paul Noble to see if this was possible.

This is a short summary of the interview:

Paul shows himself to be as friendly, approachable and entertaining a genius as you could ever want to meet. The Collins people might say he’s a genius but no, he chuckles, it’s actually just not teaching language in a ridiculous way. That is all it is, just doing it in a sensible way. Why wouldn’t you do things so people understand it? Why wouldn’t you teach them the more useful stuff, rather than the less useful stuff?

So, what is he referring to exactly? I always had the feeling that it would be incredibly cool to be able to speak a foreign language, he admits. When we did have any language classes in school, I was never any good. I did history at university but I actually spent most of my time studying languages at home by myself. Paul confesses that he became obsessed with the idea of being able to speak a language and consumed as many different courses as he possibly could. In doing so, he discovered that traditional ways of learning a language just didn’t suit him. Most language courses are terrible, he says. So how does he do it? Well, rather than spending an age learning the nuts and bolts of a foreign language, such as the grammatical terms that we all remember with a groan, Paul’s argument is that if you want to speak a language then you need to do just that. If you want a course that makes you better at speaking the language then the course should be making you speak the language, he argues and after just five minutes, I have to say that he’s right.

I would agree with this myself; it sounds a lot like the courses I tried, I much prefer the sound of his classes!

When asked why he started his training school, Paul says that the most commonly used phrase, uttered in foreign language classrooms across the entire English- speaking world is: I’m no good at languages also frequently expressed as I’m not gifted at languages. Curiously, this is a phrase which is especially common, to the experience of language learning. I don’t think, for instance, that I have personally ever heard it used by anyone learning to drive a car. Whenever I’ve met people who are having trouble learning to drive, very often their response is: I suppose it’ll just take time. Rarely do they suggest that they are simply not gifted at driving.

Having said this, I have never considered myself to be especially gifted at languages. As a teenager, although I was successful academically, I was totally lost with languages, bemused and frustrated by them. I found them so difficult in fact that I probably would never have given them another thought, except for the chance coinciding of my initial failures at language learning and my passing of the MENSA entry test. When I gained entry into MENSA, I did ask myself why it was that I could have a high IQ and yet be appallingly bad at languages. Was there a connection? Or was it just a question of not being gifted as one might or might not be in music, for example?

I did try to learn a language again later but I always met with failure and utter frustration. The explanations given to me by teachers and grammar books bamboozled me and progress seemed impossible. One day, I was wandering through a second-hand book shop, when I came across a very old and extremely tatty French textbook. Glancing inside, I came across a quote, which struck me at the time and which was to change the whole direction of my life. It was by the eighteenth-century French writer, Antoine de Rivarol

Grammar is the art of lifting the difficulties out of a language; the lever must not be heavier than the burden

 I was very much affected and inspired by this idea, that grammar should actually remove the difficulties from a language, rather than being a troublesome subject in itself. I thought long and hard about what de Rivarol had said and with this basic idea in mind I set about self-instructing myself, both in French and German, all the time being guided by this basic notion. I deliberated a great deal about how the difficulties from typical textbook and grammar book explanations could be removed. So as to give myself and others a more usable understanding of foreign languages. During my initial period of self-instruction, I also began to seek out any course or book that was easier for me to understand and to learn the language from, I found very few. Most courses offered much the same as that which I had experienced at school. So were of little help.

A small minority of authors and teachers did exist, however, who had produced books, audio-tapes and CDs that at least hinted at better ways to teach like: Alphonse Chérel, Jacques Roston, Lewis Robins, Charles Duff, Margarita Madrigal and Michel Thomas. Looking back, I can honestly say that each of them changed my life and helped me drag myself those initial steps along the path towards being able to speak a foreign language properly. In spite of this, I was nevertheless acutely aware that they each still suffered from serious weaknesses. Nonetheless, they did each help me to take some of those first steps. On top of this, however, these courses were perhaps most valuable in that they acted as an aid in prompting me to try out some aspects of the instructional viewpoints employed by them, with the hope that they would make instruction easier and more effective. These provoked me into asking the most important question: why it was that, if courses could be fleetingly insightful and useful, they couldn’t be insightful, useful and use real language from beginning to end. This in turn led me into thinking long and hard about what it was that allowed each of their methodologies to work but then, ultimately, to fail at certain points.

Considerable time passed as I considered this during which I came across the works of various authors, each of whom exerted a significant influence on the way I thought about languages or about learning in general. Spurred in part by this realisation ,I decided to try writing a course of my own, one which would be guided by the belief that there was nothing so complicated in foreign languages that it could not be made simple and with the intention that this principle would be sustained throughout the entirety of the course. It would be a course where students got everything they were taught and where everything they were taught was useful, real language, which would allow them to hold a normal conversation with another human being. Finally, it would also be a course where, by its end, each student would actually be able to remember what they had been taught. Eventually, I did write several courses based on this principle. They took a long time to develop and each had to be trial tested for many months just to make certain that they were heading in the right direction.

I found that I was able to get the results I desired and they were quite remarkable. Whereas students might normally spend several years studying languages at school and come out unable to communicate in that language, students were leaving my classes after the first few hours, able to construct complex sentences and to begin communicating in the language they had been taught. Based on the great success of these courses, I eventually founded a private language college. The Paul Noble Language Institute, as it came to be known. The French, Spanish and Italian courses I developed at the Institute were subsequently published by Collins. Since their publication, I have gone on to work exclusively with East Asian languages.

Paul gives 5 tips on learning a new language;

  1. Study at least a little every day. Learning a language is like building a fire, if you don’t tend to it, it will go out. It doesn’t have to be for a long time though. Just 5 or 10 minutes each day will be enough.
  • Stop while you’re still enjoying it. Arnold Schwarzenegger once said that the key to his body building success was that he stopped his work- out each day just before it started to get boring.
  • Use your hidden moments. The famous American linguist, Barry Farber, learnt a great part of the languages he spoke during the hidden moments he found in everyday life. Such hidden moments might include the time he would spend waiting for a train to arrive or for the traffic to get moving in the morning. These hidden moments could include lunch breaks.
  • Forget what you were taught at school. Many of us were told at school that we did not have an aptitude for languages, that we didn’t have a knack or a gift for them.
  • Choose the right language. If you’re going to learn a foreign language, make sure you choose a language that you’re going to have a chance to use. Like going on holiday. Could a particular foreign language be useful at work?

To find out more information, the website is below and the Collins books and audio courses are available through the Collins website or Amazon. I hope you have chance to give it a try!