Where do we learn what we know?

Before starting this response to Session 2 of Newcastle University’s EDU8213, I wanted to just say that the only reason I am doing this is twitter. At first I didn’t really want to join in with the class today. I wasn’t feeling up for it, and I had other things to do…lessons of my own to prepare, going through the ethics process for a study I’m planning, and doing general PhD reading…

I thought that this week, I would just sit on twitter and respond to a couple of things that I find interesting and retweet some stuff. 10 minutes into this, I wanted to hear what was actually being said in the audio file for session 2…so here I am.


When I was 17, I went off to Uni to do my Bachelor’s of Education at the Private University College of Education of the Diocese of Linz, which is just a fancy way of saying ‘teacher training school’. I trained for three years to be a primary school teacher in Austria, which allowed me to learn a broad set of topics including language development, neurology of child development, creativity and learning, reform pedagogies, intercultural understanding, but also more pragmatic subjects like how to develop lesson plans, curricula, marking criteria, and reflective exercises. 

A large part of this was self-reflection, I’d say almost half of the 14 modules we had a semester were based in coaching, team-building, reflection, or communication strategies. Since I was training to be a primary school teacher much of that reflection was focused on my own primary school years.

So, in lieu of Sugata’s provocation, I thought I could take a little trip down memory lane to explore where and how I learnt a couple of different things.There are lots of things I could talk about here, but I’m going to focus on my language learning, because I think it says a lot about self-organised, and peer learning.

Language learning

I moved around Europe a lot, so a large part of my life was dedicated to learning language…sometimes this was very systematic, while other times it was very organic. I think the best example of that may be how I learnt Spanish and Romanian.

When I was around 10 years old, I lived and went to school in Spain. I went to a British school, and learnt Spanish as a ‘foreign language’. This meant that I started at the lowest common denominator; I have memories of learning the special characters of the alphabet in Spanish, as well as special punctuation marks. At the same time though, I also went to sports clubs with a bunch of Spanish kids where I learnt all sorts of other things in Spanish. I hated the sports clubs because I couldn’t talk to the other kids, and mostly because I was the only ‘foreigner’ and I wasn’t really included in anything. I learnt some Spanish, but that didn’t seem to help me in the Spanish classes at school as they cared more about grammar and (relatively useless) vocabulary. To this day, I cannot speak Spanish properly, but am pretty good at understanding it and picking up things on the go.

A few years later, I moved to Romania. Again, I went to an english speaking school. This time however, the school didn’t think it was really necessary to teach us Romanian and so the only way to learn the language systematically was to attend the (extremely boring) ‘Romanian Language’ optional class. So I did that…for 1 semester. I got out of that class as soon as possible. It felt useless, futile, and incredibly boring. I wasn’t interested and don’t think I learnt very much. While being in this school, a friend of mine and I made friends with a couple of Romanian kids in the skate part (yes, I was a very cool teenager, I know.) We mostly talked to them in English (as they all spoke it really well, and we couldn’t really speak Romanian), but picked up little bits of Romanian on the way. I began using these little phrases with my Romanian friends in the english school too, and they were quick to teach me more things. At this point, it was just fun to say a couple of sentences in Romanian every now and again. It wasn’t until I graduated high school, that I really got into learning the language. I went to Moldova for two months to work in an orphanage…and there I was confronted with the choice of either learning Russian or Romanian properly so I could communicate with the kids, the guardians, the staff, or anyone, really. I think the main reason why I learnt as much as I did during that time was because I already knew quite a bit of Romanian before I went (which was very important to me). The kids were fabulous at teaching me new words and sentences. They would laugh at me if I said something wrong, they would correct me in incredibly sweet ways, and laugh at my pronunciation until I got it right. They would laugh even more if I said the Romanian word for something, instead of the Moldovan word. It was all in great fun. I went back to Moldova a couple of years later, and while driving around the country was often believed to be either Romanian or Moldovan.

By  no means, is my Romanian perfect, but my accent and word-choice are similar to those of native speakers because I learnt from native speakers; mostly children. I didn’t learn the grammar (and to this day don’t really understand it) and didn’t learn vocabulary…but still, I’m able to have conversations about all sorts of things in the language.

While I can name mundane things in Spanish but not Romanian, I am able to have more of a conversation in Romanian than in Spanish. I think that this has a lot to do with how I learnt the language; a lot with who taught me that language, where I was taught this language, and how I feel  about those situations and experiences.

My teachers were often a lot younger than me, or at least roughly the same age. None of them were trained teachers, and I had personal relationships with all of them. I like them, and (I think and hope) they liked me. We shared experiences together that had nothing to do with learning the language. In fact, most of the language learning that I went through when learning Romanian had nothing to do with actual language learning.

It was all based around interpersonal relationships, travel, and a wish to be able to communicate.

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