About ten years ago I decided I was fed up of my job and quite fancied a career change. I had a bit of a brainstorm and came up with these options: horticulture; curatorship; TEFL. As I quickly realised I couldn’t tell my hydroponics from my hydromatics (is that even a word or did I just get that from Grease?), my knowledge of art history pretty much extended to some fictionalised Vermeer antics (Girl with a Pearl Earring) and a little bit of Bruegel (Headlong – by Michael Frayn – well worth a read by the way!) it didn’t take long to realise that a little evening class in the joys of teaching the English language to foreigners was in order.
To cut a long story short, this didn’t really pan out for me as a career either (this could have had something to do with a room full of Italian teenagers and my ever so slight lack of any sort of authoritative presence…). However, what I did gain from this experience was a newfound respect for anyone who takes on the beast commonly known as the English Language. My course alerted me to the fact that English is by far the most complicated language in terms of both grammatical structure and massive vocabulary. It is also a living language to boot so this year’s ‘new’ word “selfie” is equally, if not more relevant to a 15 year old Japanese school girl than how to figure out why on earth we insist on a big red car and not a red big car. Its little rules like this that we aren’t even aware of because, lucky old us, we soaked up this information completely unconciously between the ages of two and four.
According to experts the brain circuits associated with language are more flexible before the age of four, offering a possible explanation for why young children are good at learning foreign languages. A study by King’s College London and Brown University tracked the distribution of myelin (a type of cell) through the brain. From the age of four, it was found to become more fixed. I find this absolutely fascinating and kind of wish that I’d done as the Japanese do and got JJ studying Spanish and French as a toddler (I believe the Japanese prefer English – it is the international language of business after all and what self-respecting toddler draws a blank on that all important conference call to Nebraska?).
At the moment I’m finding the nuances of language acquisition coming to life every day as JJ comes out with something not quite right gramatically (“we was in the garden” – “were, JJ, were”) or just not quite right – for instance, last weekend in the garden centre: “Mummy, they’ve got pineapples on the Christmas tree”, me (after a good long look) “Hmm, I think you mean pine cones JJ…”
I’ve just had the sneakiest peak at the related articles I’ve chosen to highlight below and I’m absolutely loving this exploration of what makes English unique, bizarre, evolutionary, and hilarious! To be continued…
- Selfies and the self-preservation of language (zoeashton.wordpress.com)
- The English Language On Word Order Depends (crazynormaltheclassroomexpose.com)
- The History of the English Language, Animated (brainpickings.org)
- Feast your wink-a-peeps and have a snirtle at the curios of English language (thetimes.co.uk)