Foreign language is like a one really long song.
An interview with English linguist – Laura Maddison (our native speaker) about the best ways to learn the language, knowing the rules and how difficult it is to learn Polish if you’re a foreigner.
What is so interesting in linguistics that you decided to become a specialist in this field?
I think the most interesting part about linguistics is its variabilty from person to person. Even two people from the same town will speak differently and it is all down to their personal history, preference and lifestyle. Linguistics offers an insight into people that isn’t offered through any other means and this makes it incredibly insightful. People don’t realise just how much of themselves they give away through their speech and vocabulary.
Do you think that knowing a language’s origin and rules by which new words are formed, or other grammatical or cultural relations help to understand the language better?
In many ways knowing how a language has been formed is key to its understanding. If you know a language’s roots you are able to piece together words which are entirely new to you as you can decipher all of its parts. For example, as an English speaker I can partly understand words from French, German, Spanish and Italian, even if my knowledge of the languages is poor, as our languages have come together in history to give us new words. These new words have evolved and adapted through time to influence other words. It’s like a knock-on effect.
I have found this particularly evident in my learning of Polish. not knowing how the Slavic languages have formed has left me vulnerable to an ignorance when it comes to understanding new words, which I have not experienced before.
However despite this, many (most) people are unaware how their language has come about and how it has effected and been effected by other languages. This has not impeded their understanding per se, but not knowing how words are formed and how they have developed will cause a hindrance unknown to the speaker.
Do you agree that some people learn better by knowing the rules, and others must first „feel” the language?
Learning a language is like learning the words to a (very long) song. For some learning the words will depend on getting the tune first, whereas some will pick the words up but the melody will come after or as a result of the words. The structure and grammar of language is less important to some, they will speak well and accurately, and be able to point out where there mistakes lie, but not necessarily why they’ve made the mistakes are or how they’d be corrected.
What is your „teaching philosophy”?
I believe a good teacher has a relationship with their students which makes the student comfortable and assured their teacher can be relied on not only to provide appropriate information but also to treat students with respect and understanding. Teaching is a process which involves guidance and assistance and ideally amicability. If a good relationship is built students will respond better to their learning and to criticism.
Do you believe that the right attitude, some relaxation or concentration methods etc. help us study more effectively?
It’s imperative the right atmosphere is created in the classroom as this will help students to understand and if they feel confident and comfortable they are more likely to ask questions and seek guidance. If students are uncomfortable a wall can be built up against the language and a frustrated stubbornness will stop the learning process.
Is every language skill (writing, reading, speaking…) as important as the others?
The importance of each skill depends on how the learner intends to use their knowledge, so it varies from person to person. For a student who hopes to study in another country, all aspects of the language need to be covered equally, whereas for someone who uses the language while at work and on the telephone the necessity is more specific. However if language is only part-known and gaps in grammar or any of the skills are evident learners will find the use more difficult and those they are communicating with will need to make allowances for persistent errors.
How do you find Polish? Is it very difficult to learn for English people?
Learning Polish has been very difficult. The range of sounds used in each word varies so much from that of the English pronunciation and the consonant clusters in many words is a constant source of grief. Fortunately, my Polish teacher (and Polish friends) are more than willing to steer me towards better pronunciation and increase my vocabulary in day-to-day life.
What do you do to learn Polish? Do you prefer working with books and exercises or just practice in everyday situations?
I practise my Polish daily on unsuspecting Polish people when I shop and visit the different parts of town. I also practise with a friend who is also learning, and we look up new words in a dictionary. The internet has been an incredible help in my learning as I listen to podcasts and use apps to help me expand my vocabulary. I listen to Polish radio stations too, but I’m not sure of the effectiveness as the presenters could be talking about anything really. This contrasts with our Polish teacher who speaks only in Polish to us. This has been good, as she guides us too by using gestures. Both together has been very useful.