Foreign Language Fluency, Acquisition Methods and Psychological Bias

Foreign Language Fluency, Acquisition Methods and Psychological Bias

One of my recent personal projects has been to work on improving my fluency levels in both French and German. I would say I’m conversational in both, with my German being a little better, but although I can speak in both languages I am by no means at mastery level in either of them, or even at fluency depending on the situation. The criteria by which one judges a level of linguistic fluency is commonly measured in the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages, which goes through six levels: Common European Framework of Reference For Languages   A1 – Complete beginner. Familiar with very basic expressions and can understand simple questions. A2 – Elementary level. Can communicate on a basic level with relatively familiar subject matter. B1 – Threshold / intermediate. Can deal with most situations likely to arise when travelling. B2 – Upper intermediate. Can interact with a level of linguistic proficiency that doesn’t hinder communication. C1 – Advanced. Effective Operational Proficiency. Can express ideas fluently and can recognise subtle, implicit meanings. Usually able to work in the language. C2 – Mastery. Can express oneself very fluently, and can easily understand almost everything that is being heard or read. Right now the only language I have at C2 is my native tongue, English. I’m unsure as to exactly what levels my French and German are at, but I took a brief online test the other day to try to place my language skills at an approximate level, and it put both of them at A2 level, which was extremely irritating because I thought my German at least would have been B1....
Brad Paisley gets pranked – and what you can learn from it

Brad Paisley gets pranked – and what you can learn from it

Over the past couple of days, I’ve been listening to more country than I probably ought to admit to. This morning, whilst listening to some Brad Paisley (Mud on the Tires, if you’re wondering), I remembered a great prank video involving him that I saw a couple of years ago, and decided to look it up again. I’ve embedded it below. It’s a very short video and well worth a watch: Brad arrives back home in Nashville on a jet, and upon landing, is “arrested” by the police, taken across the tarmac and put into the back of a police car. Only then, when his “crimes” are read out to him (“excessive noodling”) (“what? On the guitar?!”) does he finally cotton on that the whole thing is a prank. There were a couple of things about this that got me thinking. Firstly, my respect for the way he handled the situation is extremely high. Even though he obviously hadn’t done anything wrong, he was exceedingly polite, co-operated with everyone involved with an absolute minimum of fuss, and remained completely respectable throughout the whole thing. All this, too, at 3am. Can you imagine Kanye West reacting the same way? The second thing I noticed was that the entire time he was being marched towards the back of a police car, Brad stayed very calm, and I’m going to attribute this to something he tellingly said whilst being handcuffed: “I’ve never done anything wrong in my life.” Let’s not be too literal about this – I’m sure he’s probably done something negative at some point during his 41 years on this planet. However, it reminded...
Pianos, wolves, and absolute focus

Pianos, wolves, and absolute focus

As I was getting ready this morning, I found myself humming something which I couldn’t immediately identify. After a few minutes, I finally realised what it was: the first movement of Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto no.2 in C minor (sometimes affectionately referred to by pianists as “Rach 2”.) I first properly took notice of this beautiful piece when I heard it performed by the extraordinary French pianist Hélène Grimaud. Here’s the link below: Hélène, in my opinion, is one of the absolute top-tier modern-day classical pianists, because of her sheer depth of expression as well as an extraordinary physical facility. Her playing reminds me of Glenn Gould in that it’s very unafraid to be idiosyncratic and individual. The first time I heard her – and seriously paid attention – was several years ago, when I heard Thomas Quasthoff’s rendition of Schumann’s “Hör Ich Das Liedchen Klingen” from his Dichterliebe song cycle. Quasthoff’s voice is on absolute top form, but in addition to a superb vocal performance, I was absolutely blown away by the sheer control and musicality of the rubato in the piano accompaniment and immediately made a note to check out more of her playing. Here’s the video below for anybody that’s curious: One thing I’ve noticed is that whenever I become seriously interested in something, I tend to absorb myself very deeply into whatever the subject matter is and read voraciously on whatever the subject might be. I’ll tear through interviews, read articles and watch YouTube documentaries on everything I can find. Having become thus entranced by her playing so far, I found myself trawling YouTube for more of...
The slow death of curiosity, and what we can do about it

The slow death of curiosity, and what we can do about it

“Curiosity killed the cat”. I heard this phrase today, and immediately stopped what I was doing. For some reason, it had never occurred to me just what an awful, insipid little adage that is. What, now we really think about it, is the intended moral behind this seemingly innocuous saying? Right off the bat, unfortunately, it’s not a great start for poor old curiosity. In four words, we’re taught – via this sad little aphorism – that this virtue is not to be trusted after all. Let’s face it, the example we’re actually being given here amounts to: “the cat was curious and look what happened to him, so do you really think you’re going to do any better? Don’t be curious. Don’t try things.” Nor is that the only example of the decline of curiosity. What about the account of Pandora’s Box? In this tale of Greek mythology, Pandora (the first woman on earth) is given, by the gods, a wedding present of a beautiful jar. There’s a catch – she is not, under any circumstances, to open it up. Of course, sooner or later, her curiosity (presumably instilled in her by these same gods and goddesses) gets the better of her, and she ends up opening it, thereby (unwittingly) releasing all evil into the world. Yet again, curiosity is apparently the one to let the side down. It doesn’t stop at Greek mythology, either. In the Biblical tale of Sodom and Gomorrah, God tells Lot and his wife that he plans to destroy the city of Sodom, and that they must leave immediately if they wish to stay alive...

First post, and back from France!

Hi folks, After successfully procrastinating for a good four years, I’ve finally managed to get around to setting up my own blog! This may, however, have been poor timing as I’m going to have to migrate across to different hosting in a couple of weeks, so with any luck my tech skills will be up to the job. If not, I’ll have to re-create from scratch… I actually created a good 80% of this site whilst on a recent trip visiting family in France, but the tidying up is now (mostly!) done and the site is live! I’m wondering if there’s a decent way to embed a lightbox-enabled Flickr plugin into blog posts so that you guys can view photos without having to move anywhere, but in the meantime, if you’re interested, you can see a selection of some photos from my trip to France here. I created the blog for a couple of reasons: I’m in the very fortunate position right now where I’m able to play music, travel, and get paid for it. (Right now, I have a few weeks free until I get back on the boat at the end of July.) Rather than have family members asking the same questions all the time, I thought it would just be easier to create a blog where I can upload photos and videos of what I’m doing, and also write about anything cool that happens on the way. That way, they can keep up to date on a daily basis, and I’ll also have a future record of what I’ve done so I can look back myself and...