What’s the big deal about learning a modern language?

‘Languages open doors’ – a phrase which has been repeatedly drilled into my mind ever since I started at St Mary’s. As a young girl in LIV (Year 7) this quote was of minimal importance to me. However, as I have taken my languages further, I have only just started to realise how true this phrase really is. Before Calne I had been learning French for five years, and as I joined onto the bottom of the school I was excited to pick up my next language – German. Despite the doubled amount of vocab and grammar tests, I really enjoyed being able to speak two additional languages. Now in the LVI (Year 12), I’m still doing both French and German and planning on taking them at university, as well as picking up a third language – Italian.

So, the big question – why bother learning another language when everyone speaks English? Well, one major thing I have loved about doing a language A Level is understanding and learning about the different cultures. There are many differences between our classic English traditions and those of other European countries. It is very useful to know that what would be considered rude in our country, certainly is not in another, and vice versa. For example, in England it is perfectly acceptable to be what we might call ‘fashionably late’, however, as I learnt the hard way, in Germany it is incredibly impolite to be late for anything – even a casual meet-up for coffee with your godfather! I have been to both France and Germany numerous times and I think that there is nothing more satisfying than going to a foreign country and actually being understood by the locals, as well as being able to hold a convincing conversation.

Learning a language has also given me great opportunities to make new friends and establish contacts which I will be able to use in later life. I’ve been on both French and German exchanges and I still keep in contact with my exchange partners. They help me understand certain unusual things about their country’s culture, as well as being there for me to practise my language on them. The best way to learn and perfect a language is to be truly immersed in the culture – so if you have friends to stay with, it makes it so much easier to learn a language.

Statistics show that in the past decade the number of people taking a language to A Level has decreased by 50%. I personally think that this is a great shame. Businesses in the UK want to start taking their companies overseas and without people who speak a language other than English, this proves to be very difficult. Having the ability to speak another language, makes you immediately very valuable to these businesses, being the key to spreading their success. I went to one of the language lectures at Exeter when I visited the university for an open day and the plethora of possible job opportunities following on from a language degree hugely surprised me. I found it very reassuring to know that my options aren’t restricted to being either a teacher or an interpreter or translator, as I had previously thought.

In the end, I think that what makes it such a good idea to learn an additional language is everything that comes with it. With my languages I have learnt new methods of communicating and how to express ideas in ways that I hadn’t previously thought of (mainly due to lack of language ability – but that’s not important) and I have also made many friends. I really look forward to continuing my languages beyond university and seeing where they take me. I definitely encourage picking up a new language – it certainly helps in other countries where they aren’t very accommodating to ‘mere monolinguist fools’.

Camilla (LVI)

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