Learning a Foreign Language: My Experience at Warwick – OurWarwick
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Learning a Foreign Language: My Experience at Warwick

Isabel Quah
Isabel Quah | Language, Culture and Communication Contact Isabel

As a student studying Language, Culture and Communication a part of the course involves studying a foreign language that you have never had previous learning experience with. In my case, having studied Spanish for the past 6 years, I decided to take up mandarin as I felt this would help me in terms of a future career path as it is predicted that Asia is where the world’s economy is leaning towards. In addition to this my family in Malaysia communicate amongst one another in Mandarin and Cantonese and one of my biggest regrets growing up was never being able to pick up any of the Chinese dialects and I felt left out and awkward whenever my relatives would speak around me.

Initially during first term, following the language placement test which I had to take upon registering for a foreign language which was necessary in order for the department to decide which language level each student would be more suited for, some went to either beginners level or accelerated beginners. In my case I was assigned to the accelerated beginners level as I had done some private tutorial sessions over summer before coming to university. As this was an accelerated beginners class I felt that I really needed to commit to doing my part outside of class in order to make sure I could fully benefit from the exercises and lectures. Despite these troubles I experienced, I was very motivated to learn and the overall learning environment that I sensed from the lecture were quite positive. As the weeks progressed, I was able to really engage myself more during my foreign language class and I made sure to participate in the dialogues and oral exercises that helped me with the Chinese tones, which is one of the areas of difficulties within Mandarin that I found and still particularly challenging as it is such a tonal language.

Unfortunately, after first term, the accelerated class deemed to be much too advanced for my knowledge level of mandarin as I was struggling to catch up with the rest of the class in terms of the characters and grammar. As a result, I moved down to Chinese 1 and the pace which the class was moving at was one the I was much more comfortable with. An important thing to remember when learning a foreign language is knowing which areas your strength lie in and which areas you need to work on to further improvement. Language immersion is also very important when learning a foreign language and this involves being able to actually communicate in the language outside of a classroom environment, hence holding proper conversations with people who fluently speak the language. This is something I felt I lacked when I was studying Spanish, as there were hardly any opportunities fro me to interact with native Spanish speakers outside the classroom. On the other hand as Warwick is such a diverse community of students, I have been able to speak with some of my Chinese friends, who after laughing a bit over my broken pronunciation or failed tones, will correct me and with a little encouragement, urge me to continue a conversation. This is something I find to be the most beneficial in terms of learning a foreign language as you can really experience and apply the language in a day to day social interaction context rather than just absorbing information from a book.

Being multilingual in such globalised society is a trait that is very much beneficial, not just in terms of business but also social communication overall. It enables you to be able to interact with people from different backgrounds and by bridging language gaps ensures a more cohesive community with a greater understanding and awareness across cultures and communities.

Isabel Quah
Isabel Quah | Language, Culture and Communication Contact Isabel

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