Taking up a language at beginner’s level
When applying for university, I knew I wanted to study languages, and I knew I wanted to continue with Spanish. I had been learning Spanish at school since Year 7, so I wouldn’t say I was fluent, but I was reasonably confident.
A lot of language students will understand the urge to take on as many languages as possible. We love a challenge and we love the idea of communicating with as many people as we can. However, setting a manageable workload for yourself is important, even if the definition of ‘manageable’ is different for everyone. So I decided to choose one extra language.
At the time, my thinking was that Italian is similar to Spanish, therefore I would find it easier. I thought choosing something completely different would be more difficult to pick up, particularly in terms of grammar, pronunciation, and alphabet. I also thought (and still think) Italian sounds beautiful when spoken, and there would be many cognates I would encounter from both English and Spanish.
I wasn’t wrong on any of these assumptions, but I definitely underestimated the challenge of learning any language from scratch. While the grammar might be more familiar, I often get confused between the two languages. I underestimated how much time and effort I would have to put in to understand the way Italian works, the way it is formed, and how it is spoken. I found it very tough, and there have been times when I wonder if I should have chosen a different language.
Despite this, I am determined to keep going. Speaking Italian is a very rewarding experience, and I can tell that my comprehension is hugely improving by trying to understand what my professors are saying when they teach classes in the target language. The cultural aspect is extremely interesting and motivates me to keep practicing my skills, because then I can gain a deeper understanding of Italian literature, film, music, and so on.
Taking a language at beginner’s level means you work harder and more intensely than you did throughout GCSE and A Level, because you have more time to dedicate to it. Although there is pressure, it is healthy, and professors are always understanding and forgiving because they know you are starting from scratch. If you have any questions about this, you can leave a comment, and I’ll be sure to respond.
If someone were to ask me, ‘should I take a language at beginner’s level?’ and ‘should I learn Italian?’, my answer would be yes. Ab initio languages are an exciting challenge that help you broaden your skills, employability, and cultural knowledge. I wouldn’t have had the chance to study Italian at GCSE or A Level, but Warwick offers these opportunities across multiple different languages. Italian is a classic, elegant language with a rich history and close ties to Latin, which will help you recognise words and concepts in many other areas, even including STEM.
Throughout my life, I hope to pick up more languages, because nothing else gives me the same sense of accomplishment. I specifically have ambitions to study Arabic and Korean, which are quite tough for native English speakers. I also think it’s important to learn a few basic phrases for any country that you’re travelling to, as it’s only polite. The good thing is that there are ample opportunities at Warwick to start learning languages, even outside of your course, through the Language Centre. Why not get started?
Challenge: Which languages do you want to start learning?