Practice makes perfect: My Experience Learning a Foreign Language – OurWarwick

Practice makes perfect: My Experience Learning a Foreign Language

Isabel Quah | Language, Culture and Communication Contact Isabel

Having officially been studying Chinese in Warwick for two years, I can certainly identify my strengths and weaknesses as well as the featurss that compose the contrasting language system between the other languages I have studied and know. Countless people I have met have been particularly interested after learning what my course entails, and tend to praise me for having knowledge of multiple foreign languages. It is said that many employers look for potential candidates who are multilingual due to the rapidly globalising corporate world and economy, thus communication and buisness settlements which are done across different countries have become essential. Fortunatley, Warwick’s Language department offers a wide variety of different foreign languages that can be taken as extra classes or as optional modules which add credits to your degree. There are varying levels for learners of all stages and skill and this can be determined by languageplacement tests which normally occur at the beginning of the academic year.

Chinese has been one of the most difficult languages to learn especially since my previous foreign language experience has been with French and more recently Spanish. While these are considered romantic languages which are closely related to English in terms of the alphabetical system, Chinese in contrast is a tonal language and relies not on alphabets but on a extensive pictographic system that make up the various Chinese characters and radicals. In any situation, learning a foreign language in a closed monotonous lecture structure using text books and worksheets is not the same as applying the language in a real interactive setting and having to communicate with locals. While learning and applying the basics through a typical written and rehearsed lecture environment is the best way to learn the basics, the best way to really pick things up quickly especially to improve fluency, vocabulary and grammatical structure is by actually actively speaking and participating in conversations. This was something that I was able to experience first hand and actually apply as means to support the learning I have done the previous years in lectures as I recently participated in a Language and culture exchange in Beijing. This summer programme was hosted by Kede College of Capital Normal University, in partnership with Regents University London. This two week programme was definitely an eye opener and allowed all the students who participated to really be able to witness and experience Chinese culture as well as strengthen their Chinese. After coming from this two week long programme, even though I do not think it was long enough for me to have a very significant improvement on my fluency, I do feel that I have been able to practice my skills more than I usually do in the lectures and I have been able to learn more vocabulary words which were not previously taught in the class textbooks.

Understanding the culture of a language’s country of origin is another way to help one fully understand the history and development of the language. As this pertains to my course, I cannot help but be very observant and reflective whenever I am exposed to the variety of languages. Many of my friends are multilingual and it always amazes me to see how people are able to switch from one language to another. There are times when I do attempt switching between Spanish, English and Chinese in which I end up mixing the languages together. This can sometimes be quite amusing especially when I fail to catch myself making these mistakes, but for sure it is one of the beauties of being able to converse in different languages and it helps bridge communication gaps that tend to divide many of our ideas and as a result cause misunderstandings that hinder our abilities to fully understand people from various cultural backgrounds.

Isabel Quah | Language, Culture and Communication Contact Isabel

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