MichaelCD - The Blog.

The thoughts of Michael Cadwallader. Coffee loving, history book reading, Cheshire man.

Saturday, April 01, 2006


My post from November 2004 entitled 'Monoglot Michael' raised a smile. At the time I was reading numerous novels, mainly from the 19th century. In these novels the protaganists were from a time when excellence in schooling was widely viewed as a good thing. Most of the characters had the ability to play at least one instrument and spoke a number of languages. I have tried learning the Guitar and Keyboard and was very very bad at both. However, when it came to languages I always thought I had untapped potential. So, as I wanted to be seen as cultured and also looked forward to being able to read foreign newspapers, I decided to start learning Welsh. Looking back now my attempts were rather half hearted. I understand more, but without a dictionary I wouldn't even be able to get the jist of a sentence.

In the summer of 2005 I was looking through the bargain book bin in my local bookshop and came across a cheap Latin dictionary. I was fascinated by the sheer number of words which were adapted from the language into English. More surprisingly I looked at the grammar section and found it very interesting. The format of actor-acted upon-action, was quite bizarre at first, but it became very easy to understand after a short time. However, I was aware that Latin wasn't taught in the local area so I thought long and hard about studying it via a correspondance course. In the end I - perhaps naively - thought that the grounding in Latin would enable me to pick up Italian fairly easily. And with this in mind I enroled on Italian for beginners at a local college. I am now seven months into the course and can confidently understand numerous questions and words. In Feburary I visited Milan and although it was a little daunting, I managed to order in Italian and ask the way to places without to many problems.

All this language learning in me has awoken in me a previously unknown interest in words. I have been able, through the use of flash cards, to memorise hundreds of words. This method of endless repetition seems to suit my learning style. But, the biggest and most profound change is the aforementioned interest in grammar. As my post from 2004 suggests, German grammar in school went completely over my head. And most embarassingly of all, I finished second last in my class for German. (In my defence this was the top tier class!)

Now, I have purchased countless language books, many of them about grammar. As a result of all this I have gone back to basics, and have began learning about
English grammar. This is a cause of slight embarassment; for afterall I am a man in his twenties, not a schoolboy! Yet I was simply not taught thoroughly enough such things as the correct use of colons, semi-colons, and even commas. I mentioned this to a former English teacher and he was in full agreement. He told me about the decision to stop teaching grammar in the old style in the 1960s and also told me about the myth that you are unable to start a sentence with 'and' or 'but'. This myth has perpetuated for years and unsurprsisingly I was taught this as well. I only realised it was incorrect when I read novel after novel where the 'rule' was broken. Obviously we agreed that the last 40 years has been a disaster in relation to grammar and it's unsurprising that English people find it nigh on impossible to learn other languages. All this rang very true with me. He did claim that they have brought back 'proper' grammar lessons in schools now. Which must be for primary school children as the standard of grammar amongst teenagers on internet messageboards is abysmal.

I realise it is easy to blame teachers and curiculums for your own failings and I am certainly not claiming to be a frustrated genius! Nonetheless, I have shown that I really did have ability in languages and it was the poor background in English grammar that let me down. The simple fact is that I was failed by the modern British school system.


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