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Dinner for eight mother tongues

The Financial Times              October 19, 2013

From Dr Christopher Knee.

Sir, While agreeing with Michael Skapinker ("Mystery of acquiring another language", Comment, October 17) that some people do appear able to learn languages more easily than others, and that the reason remains something of a mystery, I would add two further complications to the story.

The first, which is perhaps also relevant to doctors practising in a language that is not their own, is that language learning also includes the ability to hear a foreign language. Learning to listen can be as important as learning to talk.

The second is that there does appear to be a "quantum leap" between the ability to take part in a meeting on a familiar topic, and the ease which Robert Maxwell displayed in a language he learnt relatively late. Although I have spent 35 years studying and working in France, and indeed regard myself as bilingual, I would still only be psychoanalysed in English - to me, the ultimate test.

Christopher Knee, Paris, France

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