I went to France when I was fourteen and I didn?t speak any French. I lived in Toulon where barely anyone spoke English; I was therefore forced to speak French everyday at home and at school. Being surrounded by French resulted in me being able to speak it fluently with no knowledge of French grammar. After ten months, I returned to Australia speaking French as my second language.
I continued to study French at school, but in a completely different approach. The lessons were carried out in English and we studied the French news and French current affairs. I learnt a lot more complicated vocabulary and was able to form more complex sentences. I also studied beginner Spanish at school. From the first class, we were only allowed to speak Spanish. This approach allowed us to achieve a higher level of Spanish than if the classes had have been conducted in English.
At university, I studied Italian, German and Russian. These classes were conducted in English and focused mainly on grammar rather than vocabulary. In Italian, we would work on our own to complete worksheets. In German, we played games as a class and then worked in groups or pairs to create dialogues. In Russian, we studied on our own, but we also decided to form study groups, as no one understood the language.
In my second year of university, I went on exchange. My first semester was in Paris at the Sorbonne where I studied Italian, German and Russian. The Italian course was very difficult as it was for students who already spoke Italian. We focused on Italian grammar, history and literature. The professor spoke only in Italian and the lessons were conducted as a lecture rather than in a classroom. The German classes did not focus on grammar; they consisted of watching German films with French subtitles and translating German songs and poetry. Russian was taught very differently from in Australia. The teacher wrote the notes up on the board so that we could copy them. He would not explain the grammar before we orally answered the questions. I found this a very difficult way to learn, as I was never able to read his Russian scrawl on the blackboard, so I was very unsure about what we were learning. The professor barely spoke, but when he did speak, it was in French (apart from the oral exercises).
In the summer holidays, I spent three months in Madrid, Spain as an au pair. I lived with a Spanish family in a little village where no one else spoke English. I spoke English to the children and Spanish to everyone else. As I had already studied Spanish, it was very easy for me to become fluent.
After Spain, I went to Bologna, Italy to continue my studies. I lived with five Italians who did not speak English. This helped me with my Italian as I had no choice but to speak it. I spoke it fluently but with incorrect grammar. At university, I studied Spanish, German and Russian. Spanish classes were conducted in Spanish and we mainly focused on the grammatical side of the language. Being in Italy had decreased my fluency in Spanish and I frequently found myself answering the teacher in Italian or French. German classes were at a very basic level and the teacher would speak in German but no one would understand so she would translate into Italian. We focused on everyday things rather than purely grammar. Our Russian lessons were conducted in a mix of Russian and Italian. The method they used was very similar to that of the Sorbonne.
In Australia, I continued to study Russian and Italian. I did Italian as my major and so all of my classes were in Italian. I studied grammar, cinema, literature and history all in Italian. My fluency of Italian increased as I learnt more complex grammar and vocabulary. My Russian classes were mainly grammatical and very advanced. We also studied short stories and had to compose our own. My written Russian is good, yet my spoken Russian is very poor.
The next language I would like to study is Portuguese. I think that the best way to learn it would be to undertake a beginner?s course before going to live in Brazil for a year. Learning a language like that ensures that you know the basics before going, and you can pick it up there by being immersed in the language and the culture.
Author: Rebecca Kate Hooper
Date of post: 2007-03-29