Teaching an old dog new tricks

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I don’t mean to suggest with the title of this post that I think I am old. But I am certainly outside of what many experts believe is a critical learning period. From the moment we are born, until we hit puberty, our brains are incredible sponges. After that the whole learning system starts to slow down.

The cruel irony of this is that we have really long lives to live after this period, with lots of new things to learn. In today’s global economy this is especially true; more and more people are choosing to or are forced to change careers completely every few years. A lot of learning is a crucial part of this, but the process of learning new things is also incredibly important for our brains as a form of exercise if you will. A few years ago I watched one of those educational programmes on brain degeneration in old age, which showed that people who continue to learn and exercise their brains in their later years, have much better memories and show far fewer signs of degeneration.

The problem with learning when you’re no longer a kid and at school is that it is a far more frustrating and lengthy process. I recently started taking language lessons, and the frustration I am experiencing is unlike anything I can recall. When we moved to South Africa I never had to learn English consciously – we just went to school every day and somehow six months later Joanna and I were fluent. When I was learning Afrikaans and French at school it was only to ensure I got As for them in my exams; I never had to learn more than what was required.

Now I am in a situation where I am learning a language so that one day (sooner than later) I can speak it fluently. When I look at lists of vocabulary or irregular verbs I want to know them all at once, because I know how much there is still to learn. I cannot leave ‘banana’ or ‘batteries’ off the list because they won’t be in the exam. The test of real life doesn’t have a set of finite learning materials.

The other issue is of course time – time to learn and opportunity to practice. Learning to speak English when I was 8 years old wasn’t a choice – two days after we arrived in SA we started at a school where, of course, no one spoke Polish. So learning to speak was in basic terms, about survival, and every day at school was practice. Now I need to not only find the time in the evenings to sit and learn, aside from a formal lesson with my teacher once a week, the only opportunity for practice is the mirror and an app on my iPad which allows you to record yourself and listen to your pronunciation alongside the correct one.

Even when you travel to the country where they speak the language you’re learning it is also not so easy to practice. In most big cities in the world people speak at least a little English. So shyness aside, it is always tempting to revert to a mixture of pidgin English and sign language to get your message across, rather than scrambling for words and butchering someone’s language.

Last night I realized that I am not only learning a new language, I am also learning patience.

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My first ever ski lesson

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I am feeling very proud of myself right now – yesterday was my first ever skiing lesson, and to my surprise, I did not suck. In fact I was pretty damn good – by the end of the three hours I was zipping around on my own and really enjoying the speed.

Many of you know how apprehensive I was about going skiing, and on Monday when we arrived in Saas-Fee, Switzerland, and went to hire skis and boots I was feeling nothing but butterflies in my stomach. But even two hours into the lesson I was feeling confident and enjoying myself. And I only fell once – off the button lift of all places. We have a private instructor from Eskimos Ski School for three days which is really the way to go when you are a complete beginner – while we were skiing I saw this massive group doing beginner stuff and couldn’t imagine anything worse than trying to learn with 12 other people.

Switzerland is really beautiful, it looks just like the illustrations from Heidi or the chocolate wrappers. Our room at the Du Glacier hotel (the second oldest hotel at Saas-Fee) has a breathtaking view of the valley. Stupidly though I have left my lens hood behind and keep getting incredible lens flare in the majority of my photos; because when the sun shines here it really shines.

I have also eaten more bread over the past week than I probably did all of last year but it is too good to resist and I’m going to keep convincing myself that I really need the bread, cheese, and gluhwein to stay alive in the cold.

Thank you to Martina in Jozi for the stylish ski jacket – my Bridget Jones nightmares were averted.

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New feature – all that I know, I know because of her

Mother (for when I’m irritated).

Mom (for when we’re in English company).

Mama (in our mother tongue).

 

A few months ago I was thinking of ideas for a photography project, something that could go beyond one or two weekends of planning and snapping. Something that meant something. In the end it wasn’t a difficult decision – I would use photography to document the countless things that I have learned from my mom in the 26 years since I arrived,  two weeks early on a cold winter’s day. Some serious,  others funny and lighthearted.

 

So as soon as I decided to start this blog I began to think about which of these I would capture first, until the realisation hit me that without her none of ‘this’ would exist. It is because of my mom that I decided to pursue photography as a hobby. It is she who always had an SLR around her neck and who documented our lives with countless photos; who showed me first-hand what joy photographs can bring. It is she who taught me about aperture, shutter speed, ISO and wide-angle and prime lenses, until finally I got it (well at least I think I have).

 

The first photo in this feature, then, is a portrait I took of her on my 26th birthday, three weeks ago. I love the dreamy, reflective look in her eyes. I’d like to think that at that moment she was thinking that she is proud of the woman I have grown up to be.

 

My mom is the most important person in the world to me. All that I am, and all that I know is because of her.

 

 

 

 

If only by the night…

Sandton by night, and from a distance, is far more appealing than up close
 
When I first bought my DSLR (which is a Nikon D3100) I somehow (very foolishly) felt that my photos would immediately be a lot better. It was a tough lesson to learn that a camera or lens does not make you a better photographer. It took me several months before I stopped shooting on automatic and before I finally moved from appeture priority to full manual.
 
A year later I can say that I take every opportunity to learn new techniques or aspects of photography and the results are starting to show.
 
This was taken around 15 minutes after sunset, Nikon D3100, ISO 100, F11 (or so), exposure of around 15 to 20 seconds. With a tripod of course.