I didn't start talking (properly) until I was almost four years old. I was severely deaf, and my older sisters were very good at communicating with me non-verbally, so my mother has always said I just didn't have the need, therefore the motivation, to talk. The ongoing family joke is that ever since I started, I haven't stopped! I am known to be a bit of a chatterbox...
The truth is, I found learning to speak quite difficult. My voice was unusually deep to the point of sounding quite masculine for a little girl, and my speech was awkward. I remember feeling acutely embarrassed when I mispronounced words, which I often did because I hadn't heard them clearly in the first place. Learning how to read opened up a whole new world to me - I can still vividly remember my delight in learning to identify words, knowing that I understood what they meant, and that I could use them myself to communicate anything, to anyone, from my own imagination. Thus, my love of language, was ignited.
Of course, words are not 'just' words. They are an essential means of communication. Put together in the right way, they are tools to convey all kinds of complex ideas, thoughts and feelings. Without them, we could not easily express what is inside us. I believe that when we approach words (and language as a whole) with this 'communication mindset', it is easier to learn them. Many learners of English try to memorise lists of vocabulary because they believe it will help them learn how to speak English quickly - this may indeed be useful to a point, but to really know how to use any particular word correctly and appropriately in context, we need to understand its deeper meaning - to 'see' the ideas which are communicated by that particular word, and not another. We also need to understand how different words form part of a sentence structure, and how they relate to the other words in that same structure.
"The purpose of words is to convey ideas. When the ideas are grasped, the words are forgotten."
- Chuang Tzu
I consider myself fortunate to have (unusually) grown up without TV. I was a child long before the internet age, and I spent many a happy hour with my head burrowed in a book at our local library. I loved reading; I devoured books at such a rate, the librarian gave me special permission to start withdrawing books from the teen/adult section, because I had exhausted the junior section by the time I was 11. Books were an escape into other worlds, and I never quite knew what world I might land in. The fantastical world of Tolkien's 'The Hobbit' made a profound impression on me, as did Elizabeth Goudge's 'The Little White Horse' (which I was both surprised and pleased to read recently was one of J. K. Rowling's direct influences). Other favourites were the famous but rather antiquated 'The Magic Faraway Tree' by Enid Blyton, all books by Shirley Hughes (which I still highly recommend for anyone with young children), 'Diddakoi' by Rumer Godden, and anything by the somewhat controversial Judy Blume.
My love of reading naturally developed into a love of writing, and I was only seven years old when I entered my first writing competition with a story titled 'The Magic Red Shoes'. Years later, at secondary school I would 'skive' off school so that I could stay at home and write stories. I won prizes at school for English, and at the age of 14 my writing was assessed by external examiners as "exceptional".
... I truly love the English language
Luckily, I never lost my enthusiasm for writing, and my love of words earned me good grades both at school and university. It was poetry though, that I found comfort in. Over the years I have attended many poetry workshops and I've been performing 'spoken word' for more than ten years.
With heartfelt sincerity, I can say that I truly love the English language; its richness, creative power and beauty have never faded in appeal.
"Language is wine upon the lips."
– Virginia Woolf
My fascination with language as an agent of communication is not confined to English. At secondary school, I rapidly developed a love of learning the French language. The acquisition of knowledge delighted me; the ability to express myself and to understand others in a country and culture different to my own brought immense joy. Later, I added Spanish, which I also enjoyed, although sadly I have not had as much opportunity to practice it.
It is Arabic however that really sets my heart on fire. In 2014 I spent three months living in Bethlehem and having Arabic lessons. It was a wholly different experience to learning a European language! I feel I can now understand how immensely difficult it is to try to learn a language which uses a completely different alphabet. I have huge respect and admiration for my Arabic, Chinese, Indian and Japanese students, who have to learn all the new characters and sounds of a totally different alphabet and - in some cases - how to read in a different direction as well!
One area which learners of English often struggle with is the use of idiomatic language in day to day conversation. There is, sadly, no 'quick-fix' way to learn idioms! But I have found it both helpful and fascinating to try to work with the student to find an equivalent in their own language. Usually, there is a saying which means similar if not exactly the same. With an attitude of openness and natural curiosity, it is a really interesting way to enter into a mutually beneficial cultural exchange, to develop knowledge and insight about a country, culture and people different from your own. Again, it really comes down to communication; linking a new idiom to a similar expression in one's own language helps to anchor the meaning in our minds, and provides an internal reference which helps us to remember it. In turn, this deeper engagement with the meaning of the expression enables us to actually use and understand it as a tool of communication, much more easily and appropriately than if we relied on memorisation alone. One of my favourite examples of this is 'the grass is always greener' - an English idiom which means, things we don't have always seem better than what we've got. I was once teaching a Taiwanese student who was really struggling to 'get' how to use this particular idiom. I gave her an example situation, and asked her how she would express that things always seem better 'on the other side'. Suddenly, she had an 'aha!' moment, and told me the Chinese equivalent, 'the moon is always rounder'. Once she had made that connection, she never forgot how to use the idiom again!
How could becoming fluent in English change your life?
Of course, there are numerous well-documented benefits of learning a second (or third, or even fourth!) language. It is mentally stimulating in a way which is quite unlike anything else, and keeps the brain active. Learners can derive enormous pleasure from learning how to communicate with others, in innumerable contexts. Of course, in a very practical and concrete way, it can literally be radically life-changing - many of my students are learning English in preparation to sit the IELTS exam for example, to enable them to apply for visas to work or study abroad in English speaking countries; some are learning English to increase their chances of promotion at work in international companies; still others have met and married their life partners as a result of being able to communicate in English! Languages in general are an indispensable part of life. Learning English in particular, known as the world's global language - with more than 350 million people speaking it as a first language and more than 430 million speaking it as a second language - can be the catalyst for revolutionary change in an individual's life, bringing previously unimagined opportunities to fruition for them personally and often, for their families too. How could becoming fluent in English change your life?
“In London, everyone is different, and that means anyone can fit in.”
– Paddington Bear
Last but by no means least - my domain extension - London! The iconic, cosmopolitan city of Big Ben, red telephone boxes, the infamous London Bridge and of course, home to the Queen of England. I love London; it's my favourite city, of those that I have been lucky enough to visit so far.
In January 2020, when I was first forming the idea for this website, I was intending to move to London from Cambridge. It's been a long-standing ambition of mine to live in London, at least for a year or a few. I grew up on a tiny island, which though stunningly beautiful, is also insular, claustrophobic and expensive. The sheer size of London, with its countless attractions, activities and eateries appeals to me a lot, as well as the sense of anonymity, in comparison to my birth town. Plus, my tattooist and some very dear friends of mine are there! (Yes: I have quite a few tattoos. In case that surprises you, I generally keep them covered for teaching!).
But as we all know only too well, covid-19 hit, and changed the world more drastically than any of us could have imagined possible. By March 2020, London had gone into lockdown. For me personally, it couldn't have been worse timing. My housemate's mental health had been deteriorating already, but the restrictions which were swiftly imposed exacerbated his illness dramatically, and I had no choice but to leave as a matter of urgency. I was torn - I wanted to move to London, but I was apprehensive about living in shared accommodation in the nation's capital, with no real job security, at the start of a totally unknown global pandemic. With a heavy heart, I returned to my island home, where there were very few cases and for many months, no restrictions. Looking back, I am glad, and I believe I made the right choice - back then, no-one had any idea how long covid-19 would be around, and I think it's fair to say it's been considerably longer than most people anticipated.
...maybe you'll come to London too?! What better place in the world to practice English?
I haven't given up on my dream of living in London. I used to go there every few weeks and I miss the constant crowds of people, the incessant noise and hubbub of intriguing languages from all corners of the globe... the amazing and exotic cuisines on offer, designer charity shops, bustling markets, all the best and quirkiest theatre, dance and comedy shows and of course, the coolest bars and clubs, playing every genre of live music you could possibly want to listen to. I even miss the screeching, hot, windy underground - a not altogether pleasant but essential experience, if you want to do London like a local! I'll be back soon, to visit family and friends (and get inked!) and hopefully, all going well, I will be living there within a year. Who knows, maybe you'll come to London too?! What better place in the world to practice English!
Oh. I almost forgot. One more thing. Hopefully it's glaringly obvious, but just to ensure you all realise - my surname is actually Love. Whenever I go to the bank, or call them, I hear "Good afternoon Miss Love". I rather like that.
Miss Love, English Teacher (Aeva!)