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26                  The Loom of Language
fonevubaybee. Of course, the extent of the difficulties which the beginner
has to face depends partly on personal make-up., and partly on that of
the language Some people with histrionic gifts pick up word-patteins
quickly, and may therefore benefit more than others from gramophone
records, which are an invaluable help for getting good pronunciation
Some languages are more staccato than others Individual words as
spoken are more clear-cut People who speak them habitually do not
slough off syllables Stress is evenly distributed In this sense, German
is more staccato than English, and English far more so than French
From knowledge of the written language, it is a small step for the
student of German to follow a conversation or a broadcast From a
good reading knowledge of French to an. understanding oi what a
French taxi-dnver says when he is quarrelling with the policeman is
a much longer road
Formal instruction is at best a very laborious way of surmounting
these difficulties. The element of curiosity which plays such a large
part in moulding everyday speech is stifled by the certainty that the
teacher is not saying anything particularly interesting., or, if inter-
esting, anything which he or she could not explain with less trouble in
a language we already understand The same remark also applies to
formal instruction in writing, to exercises in tianslation, or to conver-
sational instruction. The teacher then plays the role of cntic in a
situation which proffers no vital problem for solution Though this is
not true of wireless which gives us opportunities for getting a new
slant on foreign affairs, the time we can devote to a foreign broadcast is
generally short. Radio does not impose on us the sheer necessity of
proficiency, as do the disadvantages of failing to reserve a seat m a
railway carnage, or the need to replace a broken collar stud Worst of
all, it will not repeat itself for the benefit of the listener*
Since the need for oral recognition does not arise in an acute form
unless we are living in a foreign country, these difficulties are not as
discouraging as they seem If occasion arises, any one who can read and
write or speak can quickly learn to understand a language when he or
she hears it spoken incessantly. So the best advice for most of us is to
concentrate on reading, writing, and speaking, with what help we can
get from listening-in, till we go abroad. Opportunities for conversation
with children are often reassuring, when we first do so In large English
and American cities there are colonies of foreigners, many of them,
tradespeople, who do not mind if we add to our purchases a bit of talk,
however defective in grammar and pronunciation.