Welcome to Fool for Language

Welcome to Fool for Language, the site for people who are crazy about learning languages - like me! If you are new to this blog, I recommend you read the articles in order. The information will make better sense.

This is my first blog and writing each essay has been much more enjoyable than I expected. I have spent most of my life teaching and, more importantly, learning languages. I have “survived” a wide range of teaching techniques, materials and teachers. The result is that I have a pretty clear idea of what has and has NOT worked for me. Yes, I am opinionated, but even if you don’t agree with me, I hope you will enjoy the stories and think about what gets you “wired” when you dive into the wonderful world of learning another language.

I want to thank some people who have helped me maintain momentum with this blog. To give you, the reader, a break, every 10th essay is written by a guest blogger, all close friends with their own special take on language learning. As for the uploading process, Kurt meticulously proofreads and makes insightful comments on each essay; while Yoh patiently provides technical support, including selection of the vibrant visuals. Thank you!


7. The Travel Bug

By the summer of my 16th year, I had already traveled to Montreal, inflicting my fractured French on a Quebecois family, and was heading into my second summer of working at the Calgary Stampede where I intended to hone my German skills and dabble in Spanish, my newest language leap. But I had some other plans, too.

I had been bitten by “the travel bug” and become a dangerous creature: a teenager with a mission. I figured that, if I worked hard and saved every penny, I could afford a trip to Europe. I had relatives in England who would accommodate me and my shoestring budget. But my real goal was “the Continent” - France!

My mother, however, was not overly supportive of her teenage son’s plan to see the world alone so she decided to tag along... and bring my grandmother!? It had been over 50 years since Granny had set foot in the UK where her siblings lived. My mother suddenly felt it her filial duty to haul my grandmother there. If I didn’t like this plan, I could always stay at home... I caved in and went along with the “family tour package” in order to see the world. Otherwise, I might not see it at all.

Granny had two sisters in England, Margaret and Jocelyn, my great-aunts. I had met them once or twice in Canada, but they were essentially strangers. As things turned out, Margaret was rather stodgy, forever making critical comments about my hair (too long), body mass (too thin), and clothes (too Creature-from-the-Black-Lagoon).

Fortunately, my other great-aunt, “Joss”, was a kindred spirit. When she heard about my surreptitious plan to head across la Manche, the English Channel, she was immediately up to tagging along for the ride. My mother, the dutiful daughter, also had no qualms about abandoning Granny for some “quality time” with stodgy Margaret in order to join our entourage. My solo flight to France had now turned into an oddball family threesome.

Although Joss had ventured to Canada and Malta, the first trip was to visit family, while the second was on a cruise ship. Both journeys were chaperoned and safe but this expedition would be different. Joss told everyone that “the Boy” (what my English relatives called me) said he could “speak French” and was going to “take care of everything”. The words were delivered with a little humor, a lot of suspicion, and a raised eyebrow that suggested “I’ll believe it after I get back... alive!”

And we did get back alive. Of course, there were a few bumps and scrapes. Our stormy hovercraft crossing of la Manche was a roller coaster simulation complete with massive waves and passengers retching all the way to the French coast (and back!), while our budget hotel near the Sacré-Coeur Basilica turned out to be  amazingly cheap because it was located in the heart of a red light district. I was delighted by the friendly local women who took every opportunity to greet me until my mother and great-aunt pointed out the obvious to my untrained eyes.

Still, a good time was had by all. Upon our safe return to her bungalow outside of London, Joss declared to the family skeptics left behind that “the Boy” could indeed communicate in French. Over the years when I returned to her little house, Joss and I would reminisce about that first adventure in France. We groaned about the hurtling hovercraft and expressed faux shock over the “ladies of the night” near the Sacré-Coeur. Joss always mentioned how surprised she was the first time she heard me speaking French. This praise felt better than any “A” on a school language test!

Learning a new language then using it with family and friends on the road intensifies the experience. Words take on new relevance as each encounter is mentally filed away to be savored years later. Sometimes I like traveling alone, having the freedom to falter or fly while babbling away in a tongue other than my own. But using a foreign language to build new memories with others whose company I enjoy is what I appreciate most now.

I have spent over thirty years dragging relatives, students, friends and partners to all corners of the globe. As a result, I can talk about Thai tailors over tea with my Aunt Gwen in Calgary; reminisce about the backstreet bazaars of Istanbul with Apisak, a friend from Bangkok; admire photos of the Japanese cherry blossoms in full bloom with my Turkish “brother”, Özgür; or nod in agreement as Tanaka-san, my cooking teacher from a little town on Japan’s Inland Sea, comments on how clean Gwen’s kitchen is in Calgary. Circles within circles, the “remember when” moments are as endless as the conversations, woven into an intricate tapestry of mutual reference points. The realities are not divorced; the people are not compartmentalized. They know each other.

Why do I go to the trouble of hauling these innocents around the globe, often demanding they pick up some of the local language with me? My reasons are completely selfish. Traveling solo through life is not an attractive prospect. Being able to relive past journeys as you plan future ones with those you care about makes the experience – and life – more meaningful for me. Talking about my aunt’s kitchen with Mrs. Tanaka in Japan keeps me grounded, keeps me sane.

As I was leaving Gatwick Airport to return to Canada that first fateful summer in Europe, Joss insisted that the pyramids of Egypt should be next on our “places to see” list. She suggested that “the Boy” should start learning a new language, Arabic. The travel bug biting her had definitely grown in size!

(If you are really fool for languages, check out my language learning website, http://en.sulantra.com/, with courses from and to EnglishSpanishChineseJapaneseTurkishBulgarianThaiGerman , Korean and Italian!)

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