One of the first real bouts of jealousy I ever felt was when I was just seven years old.
I went to a tiny village school in the middle of nowhere, with maybe 50 pupils. Teaching was excellent but facilities and breadth of formal subject learning opportunities were limited. We weren’t aware of this, because informal learning opportunities abounded daily. The first blackberries? Everybody out to go gathering blackberries to take back to the cook for blackberry pie that lunchtime. The first snowfall? Everybody out to learn how to make an igloo.
But one day my younger sister aged 5 came home and announced she was learning French with a new teacher. I was consumed by bitter envy. Despite the isolation of the school, I had broad geographic horizons and was desperate to travel Abroad and hear Foreign Languages.
From that day on, I grilled my sister daily and insisted she passed on every scrap of her new found knowledge. Le moulin. Le chatêau. I remember all too clearly those were the first words she taught me. But I never forgave the school for allowing the infants to have a go at French, when I, desperate to learn, had to be content that term with building a papier mâché caveman cave (with tissue paper bulb-lit campfire as I recall).
Until age 11, my only sources of language instruction thereafter were the Chalet School books by Elinor M. Brent-Dyer. Not great for accent or pronunciation purposes though, as I found out when I tried to use my vocabulary resources at senior school.
Once I’d started with proper language lessons though, I was desperate for opportunities to practice. We had an ancient transistor radio at home with a nasty brown plastic cover. I discovered that switching the dial to long wave allowed me to trawl the continental airwaves and hear snatches of Real French and Real German being spoken by natives. But even if my language skills had been up to the task, I could never hear anything for long enough to make any sense of it as the reception foundered and faded every few minutes.
It’s all so different today. With the Internet, the world has instant access to all sorts of language learning and practice. Foreign films are readily available, and foreign language papers and books available with next day delivery.
And I get my daily fix now from TuneIn radio; an amazing app which allows me access to all my favourite foreign stations and much more besides. My kids (who have it’s true inherited the foreign language passion) just do not appreciate how lucky they are. But I certainly do.