I had an unusual linguistic upbringing. Growing up, I heard mostly Greek at home (I spoke a mix of Greek and English). I also lived in a French province for the first nine years of my life. When I started school, it was at an English school, with French lessons starting in grade 1 (we eventually moved to an anglophone province, and I continued taking French until I graduated). My mom taught me the basics in Greek, and I had a very small amount of Greek school on weekends (I don’t think it amounted to a full year).
I never heard French at home, except when flipping past the French channels on TV. I never had anyone to speak French with outside of classes, and I only occasionally read anything in French. But I heard Greek constantly, spoke it often, and read and wrote it occasionally. I’d have conversations all the time with older relatives (granted, they did most of the talking, but I still felt I had a solid grasp of Greek). If anyone asked I would have said I was fluent in Greek and knew some French.
Then I decided to take lessons.
I had a language learning app taking up space on my phone, so I finally decided to give it a try to see if it was worth hanging on to. I chose French as the language to learn since I’d been wanting to improve my skills for a while. The app starts off by testing you to see how much you know. I breezed through the test and got to skip ahead to more advanced lessons. I was pleasantly surprised at how much I remembered and how easy much of it was (that said– keeping track of the gender of words and then adjusting all the words in a sentence accordingly is exhausting).
L’homme est canadien (the man is Canadian)
La femme est canadienne (the woman is Canadian)
Les hommes sont canadiens (the men are Canadian)
Les femmes sont canadiennes (the women are Canadian)*
(*These aren’t even the most complicated examples– wait until you need to start describing inanimate objects…)
It was great to find out that I wasn’t as bad at French as I thought. And since it was going so well, I decided I’d might as well improve my Greek while I was at it.
Considering Greek is technically my first language (I started picking up English as a toddler), that initial test was not as easy as I expected. Unlike with French, I did not get to skip ahead to more advanced lessons. I discovered I didn’t even know some basics– my vocabulary and spelling are much worse than I realized (but at least my conjugation is good).
After a few minutes on the app, I realized I knew only some Greek and quite a bit more French than I’d assumed. Not what I expected.
It turns out the formal French lessons that I had in school made an impression that’s stuck with me decades later. Meanwhile, learning Greek mostly by “osmosis” let me down. There’s something positive to be said about rote learning and formal education, after all.
My years of absorbing Greek haven’t totally gone to waste. The knowledge I’ve picked up has definitely made the app lessons easier (I’m seriously impressed by anyone who can learn this language from scratch). Since starting the lessons, however, I’ve already seen a major improvement, especially in spelling, vocabulary, and reading. I’m probably only up to an Elementary School level of proficiency so far, but I finally feel that I’m getting a real grasp on the language I’ve known all my life.
As someone who’s always been more inclined to learn on my own rather than take a class, this has been eye opening. It’s amazing the difference that actual lessons can make. I’m excited to keep using the app, not only to keep learning French and Greek, but also to expand on my two years of high-school Spanish, and– hopefully– to learn a new language or two. The next time I’m tempted to learn something new, I think I’m going to find a class to take instead of assuming I can figure it out myself.
How about you– have you taken any classes lately, or are there any you want to take? Share in the comments…
Find out what I can do with language (including a bit of French) by getting my books 🙂
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Aspasía S. Bissas