Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Spousal Education

During my time in grad school, teachers and visiting writers preached about the value of learning a second or third language. They often joked about a line spoken by a few writers in the past, "The best way to learn a language is in bed."

After more than a year of marriage, and two prior years together, I can assure you that this theory does not work. Jia is a great Chinese teacher--her students say so--but I haven't learned much from her. She has tried to teach me Chinese, I just couldn't retain it (unless it was humorous, pointless, or slightly crude). However, there have been a few times I've asked questions and remembered what Jia told me. Still, it's rare that I learn anything from my wife.

Now it's her turn. Jia wants to improve her English. Her spoken English is fairly good; it's the writing and reading skills that need work. I've given her a few books to review at home, but I haven't even attempted to give her any sort of lessons. I figure it works the same way for her as it does for me.

I've met plenty of people who have lived in China longer than I have and have the same problem with learning Chinese. They also seem to have similar problems with spouses. I have to wonder, is it possible to learn from a spouse?


Yokie Kuma said...

I gave up learning Chinese. I tried and studied for 4 years and made decent progress. From a teacher. Started dating a girl who knew almost zero English. The surprise is ... 2 years later my Chinese is still awful but her English is awesome. So we never use the Chinese any more. And the kicker (which is why I stopped trying) is she learned ONLY from watching TV with me at night. Not school. No teacher. I refused to help. She just sat and watched the TV and that was that .... I must be an idiot ....

Ann said...

It is hard, if not impossible to learn a foreign language from your spouse. I haven't learned ANY Italian from my husband, minus profanities that I've heard him say time and time again. I learned a bit in an Italian class but the rest picked up in social settings and being out and about.

Mr. Svenska said...

I disagree. I've been living abroad for almost two years and I didn't speak any Russian when I arrived here except for hello, yes, and no. Now I work exclusively in Russian and most of my friends and acquaintances are Russian speakers. I don't consider myself especially strong in languages, though I studied and speak German as well.

I've dated two native speakers and they've both helped me immensly not by sitting down and teaching me, but just by introducing words and phrases and explaining them to me. I'm at a point where I can converse freely, but there are still tons of locals phrases and such that I miss and my girlfriend had always been supportive and helpful explaining what they mean and when to use them. It's boosted my Russian hugely and given me much more confidencein speaking.