What’s the point of learning a language?
Hopefully the sheer majority of people on this community will have either now finished their exams, or at least are facing the final stretch before the sweet release of summer. I certainly have enjoyed the last couple of weeks away from the repetition of revision, and have found myself spending some of my time helping out with the upcoming virtual open days, which will be taking place between:Monday 6th July – Friday 10th July & Monday 13th July – Friday 17 July
Naturally, the notion of a virtual open day seems a bit ridiculous, but like many things occurring currently, it seems we’ve got to make the best of what we’ve got. Whilst I am not sure what they will entail, I personally have seen a lot of video content being produced, to try and give all prospective students an idea of life on campus, even if the possibility of a real open day is long gone. One of the many videos which will feature me revolves around my experience learning Russian and talking generally about the benefits of learning a language at university… which leads me to the point of the blog, why should you learn a language?
I’m talking to all the students thinking about studying maths, chemistry, history, whatever, just not languages, as perhaps this might illuminate you to the variety you could spice up your degree with. Perhaps you were not aware, but it is quite easy to insert a language module into your degree, regardless of what you study (just check with your department). This means that students from across the departments can use the Language Centre, and learn one or more of the 11 different languages offered:
I’m not going to dwell on the obvious reasons to study a language (year abroad, international opportunities, more friends, the ability to engage in awkward small talk in more than one language…) as they’re harked on about a lot. What I will say to try encourage those of you who perhaps didn’t totally hate doing the french GCSE is that you should study a language, because you can actually get quite good at it in such a short time. In these bleak quarantine times, I’m sure quite a lot of people, when they’ve finished butchering homemade sourdoughs and tie-dying old clothes that they will never wear again, have attempted to learn a new language. Naturally, people will have had various levels of success, but I personally have avoided doing this (even though it is my dream to speak icelandic) because I just think: what’s the point? I’ll be really into learning it for max a week, then it will just become yet another burdensome example of my inability to commit to new hobbies.
However, by undertaking a language as part of your degree, or even as a weekly evening class, you have the support and motivation to really improve. It comes as no surprise that the difference between duolingo and an actual qualified teacher is startling. When I started my Russian journey, I was slightly concerned that it would be an arduous, fruitless journey. Within three years (technically 2, as I didn’t really study it on my Year Abroad…) I am already quite confident with reading and writing, and my speaking is okay. I would feel very comfortable dealing with daily situations in Russia, and that is quite nice. Of course, you might not want the joy of learning Russian in your life, and maybe one of the friendly languages such as Spanish or Italian might be tempting. To this I would say: GO FOR IT. Within a year of starting Italian (admittedly I knew Spanish which helped a lot) I was very comfortable with the basics, and after 18 months of studying it, I was fully prepared to move to Italy, and only cry occasionally when I couldn’t understand.
So I guess the point of this blog, is if you are like me and a pessimist, remember that learning a language at university is one of the most rewarding and enjoyable things you can do. During this time, so many societies and sports will be tempting you to dedicate your time to them as a fresher next year- something that is really important to do as they’re one of the best aspects of university in the UK. However, the balance and variety that learning a language can bring to any degree combination can be very motivating, not to mention the fun of meeting new people, so perhaps try to consider adding it into your schedule as well? What have you got to lose? You can always quit.
I assure you that progress is possible, and what other time will you have in your life to just learn something useful for fun. Unless we have another pandemic and quarantine….
Cover photo of Bogota, Colombia taken on my year abroad (oh wow, did that just come up in conversation again??)