Thursday, 17 November 2011

Tuning in, tuning out...

I often liken learning a foreign language to getting used to a new song...the tune might be catchy, but the words at first are hard to get.  Repeatedly listening will help us to pick out the sounds that become words that then (hopefully, eventually) begin to make sense.  I recommend listening to the radio as a background sound to other activities to help get accustomed to the sounds of a new language, to learn to tune in.

At home, living with two languages, it's often like having two radios going at the same time, each one oblivious of the other.  Shorter members of the family are admonished for "talking over" the grown-ups, needing to learn to wait their turn.  But us grown-ups tend to do the same thing, not out of a sense of urgency ("I'm huuuuuuuuuuuuungry, can I have a biscuit noooooooooooooooooow???"), but because we tune out of the other language when we're not part of the same conversation, then suddenly start talking about something else.  We dip in and out of the discussion, following our own train of thought, switching off to the sounds of the others.  We can hear, but we don't listen.

This was one of the little luxuries I enjoyed in France.  I could take a crowded bus or the metro in France's second city and simply tune out of the hubbub all around me.  Unless I made a conscious effort to actually listen and follow the conversations around me, it all became background chat.

Back in my own language-world again, this luxury has gone.  The "radio" is on all the time, picking up every frequency in the vicinity.  I can't tune out of conversations in the supermarket, musak in the shops, adverts with irritating jingles that then stay in your head all day.

Learning to listen takes practice, but learning to stop listening I fear might be impossible...

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