The Opening has been reviewed by Isabel Hurtado de Mendoza

in the Institute of Translation & Interpreting Bulletin,

November-December 2011 issue.




Off the bookshelf

Isabel Hurtado de Mendoza MITI, BA (Hons), MSc, DPSI, is a freelance  translator working from English into Spanish. She specialises in art, marketing and media, tourism, environment and humanitarian issues, and is the Editor of the Scottish Network newsletter.


The Opening – An Autobiographical Journey to Speaking Languages

by Daniel Pageon



You would think the title for this book review is a cliché, but you should think about this twice – literally. I would like you to think about it, firstly, because this book  is truly one  that didn’t look appealing to me at first sight but turned  out to entertain me immensely; and, secondly, because I would like you to notice the word I used before – cliché. Where does it come from? How did it get into the English language, and when? How commonplace is it now and has it been throughout the years?

According to the online etymology dictionary, www., this word dates from 1832 and comes from the French word cliché, ‘a technical word in printer’s jargon for ‘stereotype’, supposedly echoic of the sound of a mold striking molten metal, thus pp.  of clicher ‘to click’ (18c.). Figurative extension to ‘worn- out expression’ is first attested 1888, following the course of stereotype’. And, if we look up ‘Stereotype’ in the same dictionary, we find: Stereotype – 1798, ‘method of printing from a plate,’ from Fr. stéréotype (adj.) ‘printing by means of a solid plate of type,’ from Gk stereos ‘solid’ (see sterile) + Fr. Type ‘type.’ Noun meaning ‘a stereotype plate’ is from 1817. Meaning ‘image perpetuated without change’ is first recorded 1850, from the verb in this sense, which is from 1819. Meaning ‘preconceived and oversimplified notion of characteristics typical of a person or group’ is recorded from 1922.

This is quite a journey for a word that we now use in English quite commonly, a journey not unlike the one that a language learner needs to make in their studies, or the literal journey that the author describes in this autobiographical book.

The Opening – An Autobiographical Journey to Speaking Languages is the baby of Daniel Pageon, a French national of great expertise in the field of languages. Actor, translator, published author, voice-over specialist, Fellow of CIoL and  ITI... Needless to say, if anyone was to write a personal book on language learning, he was the man for the job. He must have realised this himself, because Daniel actually printed his book himself.

Self-publishing is fairly common nowadays, and it is a fantastic way to share knowledge and experiences with whoever might be interested. But some books might benefit from the independent advice offered by a third-party publishing house. I do think that Daniel’s book might have been a bit more attractive if it had been vetted in such a way.

As a reader, I like books with an attractive format and structure, and this is something that I missed here. Chapter lengths are quite dissimilar, ideas are erratically presented at times and some paragraphs seem to be endless. With the help of a good impartial editor, this – and  a few typos – would have  been ironed out.

But don’t judge this book by its cover, and do delve into it without fear. If you do, you will soon be immersed in the sea of funny anecdotes, fascinating historical facts, helpful footnotes and insightful literary quotes that sprinkle Daniel’s account of his own journey to speaking languages.

Even though this book’s structure is quite confusing, we must not forget that this is an autobiographical account. It is certainly not an essay on linguistics nor a Teach-yourself- Mandarin kind of book.

However, sharp-eyed readers will soon pick out lots of practical tips and learn from Daniel’s experience of learning languages at different stages of his life. Because Daniel doesn’t only explain – in a highly entertaining manner – how languages are born and die, what the different language families are or how some languages are etymological and  others phonetic; he also encourages language learners to take  the plunge and  learn languages in an attempt to break down  barriers, learn from different cultures and  make  friends for life.

Through  the different chapters, Daniel will not only convince you that learning a new language is a great idea and  debunk the myths associated with it (‘I’m too old to start learning’ is dismissed as simply ‘another excuse’), but he will also guide you through the journey from the very first step: which language should you learn first?

Daniel’s book  teaches you the dos and  don’ts of language learning, includes useful recommendations for further reading and  exposes the many errors made by education systems all over the world. You will be drawn in by his language theories and the numerous interesting facts he presents (Do you remember when you first heard the Portuguese word arguido? Do you know that some languages make the plural by repeating a word?  What are the longest words ever?). And that’s when you will discover that The Opening is also packed with practical advice.

Some useful tips that the author shares with language learners include: start by speaking rather  than  learning how to write and  read  a language first (the way a child would naturally do); forget your fears and  use what  you have  learnt straight away,  even  if you have  to speak in infinitives and  using generic words; find out the learning method that works best for you; and don’t forget that everyday  practice makes perfect.

Daniel’s conclusion is that it is better to communicate in part rather than not at all. This is very helpful and brings us back to basics. We should attempt to exchange ideas, experiences and emotions, never forgetting that language is not the only tool we have at our disposal. When you are in a foreign land, don’t feel threatened; make  full use of your weaponry – a topic that Daniel also touches on when  explaining the military origin of the two-finger sign!

In my opinion, when writing The Opening, the author did not have  a clear readership in mind. Some might dislike aspects of his unconventional approach to learning languages or his somewhat controversial political ideas. It might be that, in order to sell more, this book  should have  been a bit less autobiographical.

However, this book doesn’t seem to have been published with the aim of making money.  The Opening is Daniel’s real-life experience, and the theories he has nurtured for years are now at our disposal. Spiced up in a very story-telling manner, Daniel’s ideas will hopefully open doors for us and certainly open our minds.


ITI BULLETIN November-December 2011




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