Why I’m learning a language and why you should too!
Growing up I had only ever been around English; the only taste of a foreign language I got was ordering “frites” on family holidays to France. In primary school I attended the school’s Italian club where we sang a song about the alphabet, but I have no other memories of it whatsoever.
It wasn’t until I started secondary school that I realised that it wasn’t uncommon for someone to speak another language. I became friends with a girl who spoke Spanish at home, which fascinated me. All of my friends that I had grown up with spoke English at home, so I just assumed that everyone my age did as well.
I remember the first time I met my new Spanish friend outside of school, she got a phone call from her mum and she proceeded to have a conversation in Spanish. I was in awe of her fluency. I then asked her a million questions about whether she thought or dreamt in Spanish, and what it was like to be bilingual.
I never thought that I, too, could become fluent in any other language since I hadn’t grown up bilingual. Then I started learning French. I found myself looking forward to the lessons and actually wanting to contribute to the discussions, which was unusual for me because I was shy.
My grades in French have always been above those of any other subject, due to the fact that I genuinely enjoy speaking a different language and perfecting my pronunciation. The idea of talking to a whole new group of people when I went on holiday excited me. I continued with French at GCSE and made a last minute decision to carry on at A Level. I’m so glad I did. The topics that we discuss at A Level have forced me to think about a variety of issues from so many different perspectives.
The completely different methods of teaching and learning a language in comparison to learning a science, for example, is so refreshing. Learning a language is not just writing down notes from a PowerPoint to learn later; it involves a combination of speaking, listening, reading and writing. I’ve had debates or I’ve had to act out the script from a film we were studying. I’ve done dictations, played vocabulary games and more! Each lesson has a different structure, which helps to ingrain what I’ve just learnt into my long term memory, rather than only knowing it for the exam. This interactive and more creative way of learning has resulted in me deciding that I want to continue with languages at university.
The skills that have come along with learning a language are also one of the main reasons I enjoy it so much. I’ve always been shy and can come across uninterested or unengaged in lessons, but being forced to speak, act and debate in front of my French class has shown me that speaking up in lessons is never as bad as I think it’s going to be. My class is small compared to the other subjects I’m studying, which has meant that everyone has become quite close. I know that no one is going to judge me for making a mistake with my grammar or forgetting a piece of vocabulary, because we’re all in the same boat.
I think that being able to communicate with more people and learn about a culture different to your own is reason enough to want to learn a language. However, if that doesn’t motivate you to actually start, the transferable skills and new perspective that you gain should. Languages have made me become more aware of what’s happening in the world around me and given me insight into how other people think. I’ve also learnt that language can be a part of someone’s identity and I think that it is so important to understand and respect a person’s identity.
Elise Andrew-Davies is a sixth form student who plans to continue with her French studies at university.