They say that the birds and the bees can tell us about the big secrets of life. I talk about birds a lot so this time I’m going to touch on bees.
I first discovered exactly how amazing bees are when I sat a school entrance exam at the age of ten. I thought the assessment had finished when we were taken to a separate hall for what we had been told would be a sample lesson.
Sitting on the floor with the other children, I listened to the teacher’s description of the life cycle and community of the honey bee. It was all pretty new to me and I was fascinated. That was fortunate, as it turned out there would be a written test at the end of her lecture. Comprehension? I hadn’t even comprehended that we would be asked questions on the content of the talk.
That, incidentally, was my first lesson that those who understand the system can make better use of their opportunities. Other entrants, and their parents, were familiar with the procedure. I’d just waltzed up unprepared, naively thinking that the school wanted to know what I could do, not what I could do in a carefully practised situation.
But the story of the bees had been well taught. I remembered all the necessary details and passed the exam with flying colours. Even though I’d taken it on Friday 13th!
My appreciation of bees has grown over the years. This week I’ve spent quite a bit of time watching them as they hover over the pretty flowers crowding a rockery in my garden. The little purple trumpets grow like wildfire. They’re sprawling across paths now, and I’m bewitched by the bees, who come in large numbers to sample their nectar. The buzzing of bees competes with birdsong in my “sounds of summer”.
The bees work so hard, zooming around and lingering a moment over each flower before diving in only to find that it has already been drained. Late on a summer evening, it can be almost sad to watch a single bumble bee still searching, long after the other bees have disappeared. Finally, the furry stripes plunge headlong into deep purple petals and the bee is suddenly invisible to watchers. She emerges triumphant, repeating the process until she seems dizzy with nectar. Soon a delicate insect can be seen sailing off into the sky, at unbelievably high altitude and quite possibly high on an over-consumption of nectar. Out of sight and homeward bound.
Sadly, bees are at risk in our fragile world. We need to protect them. Or at least stop harming them. Let’s face it, life forms on this planet are pretty good at self-preservation and they’ll do even better if we stop messing with the environment.
I know, I know. Right now you’re concentrating on protecting yourself. You don’t have time to help the bees. You just want to get that job. Well, I promised you some life lessons from bees. What can they teach English learners?
First of all, if you want to be a competent English speaker, whether for personal or professional reasons, be as busy as a bee! Practice and more practice. Find a native speaker who can help you. Ideally, a qualified, experienced teacher…or a romantic partner who’ll be both motivation and walking dictionary. Explore and enjoy the language to its fullest extent. Taste everything. No need to commit yourself. If something doesn’t suit you just say no, that’s not for me, not my learning style at all. Like a bee dusty with pollen, you’ll have picked up something useful on your journey. Do you hunger for soap operas or Shakespeare? Feed your appetite for English.
When you find whatever works for you, whether that’s listening to the BBC 24/7, watching TED lectures every night, Skyping with your English teacher for 15 minutes each morning, having an online lesson at lunchtime twice a week, or plunging into an immersion course in an English-speaking country, just remember those bees….Throw yourself right in. Dive into the flower and get every drop of nectar out of it. Gorge yourself. Soak yourself in the beauty of the language until you stumble out, drunk on English and intoxicated by knowledge. Imagine soaring off, a winged creature with the freedom to travel….that could be you.
Most importantly, don’t be afraid to make a noise! So many people are afraid to speak English aloud. They lack the confidence to try so they never become fluent. Those bees don’t always choose the right flower first time, but they get there in the end. It’s not just human to make mistakes, even the bees do it. Mistakes are OK. They’re part of the learning process. Just keep buzzing away in English!
In all the talk about Muhammad Ali since his death, it’s been clear that words were the most powerful weapon he possessed. Make your words count. Learn to sting like a bee.