Why I Study A Foreign Language

31 May 2016

Ni Hao!

I've been thinking a lot about this lately, because I've recently been given the opportunity to be a keynote speaker at a conference coming up all about why I choose to study a foreign language. I'll try not to rant a lot in this post, but I can't 100% promise that, so I apologise now.

I want to say though, that if you don't study a second language, don't worry, I don't hate you for it, I just want to explain my reasons for why I do. This is my view.

I'm a native English speaker. It was my first language, and I was born in bonnie Scotland in the early hours of a Spring morning in 1994. My first word, as far as I know was 'baba', probably because I was a baba and the people I was around kept calling me one. My mum was born in Germany, though she was born on British soil, in the 1960s. She is also a native English speaker, but spent some of her life living in Germany, and spoke some German, as well as some French. My dad was born in Scotland. He is a native English speaker. He speaks some French, I'm not sure if he speaks any other languages. My brother was born in Scotland. He is also a native English speaker. He may speak some of another language, though I'm unsure.

The point I'm trying to make is, I'm lucky. English was my first language, I didn't have to try and learn it because I've always known it and the rules are ingrained into me. Sure, I was taught grammar and spelling, but it was easier for me than it would have been if I'd been taught English as a secondary language.

When I was in primary school, I went on holiday abroad for the first time, to Spain (of course) and I remember being taught and then encouraged to speak basic Spanish (as in 'hola', 'por favor', 'gracias', 'da nada' and 'adios') Then when I was in primary 6 I was taught the beginnings of my French.

I loved French. I was told I was good at it. I still remember sitting in class and at the beginning of all French classes we'd have to say 'aujourd'hui c'est vendredi'. My mum was great at encouraging me with this and even bought me a book called 'Harry Learns French' which had very basic sayings in it, and had an interactive CD ROM. I loved this book, and I hope that when I have children, that they'll get the benefit from it as well.

I followed on learning French in primary 7, then in S1 right up until S4. (So, ages 11-15). When I left school, I started a modern apprenticeship in childcare, and there was a little girl who was bi-racial with one parent White, British, and their other parent being Asian, Chinese. With family reasons, they'd lived in another country for a while and she was additionally being taught French at the nursery, which means she had 4 languages running through her head. This was the point where I decided that I wanted to learn Mandarin.

I didn't stick into childcare, instead I quit for personal reasons and started my HND in travel and tourism. I'm finishing the course now (WHICH IS SO SAD!) but this year I was given the option to study language; options were French, German, Italian and Spanish. I chose French as my first choice (which I've been studying), Italian second choice and German third choice. Then, we were given a brand new option - to additionally study Mandarin! I took the choice, remembering about the promise I made myself when I met that little girl.

Which is all well and good, but I haven't explained why I study a foreign language yet.

In the simplest way, I feel it's rude not to.

To come back around to my first few points at the fact I'm a native English speaker, I find it rude that when we get overseas visitors into our country, then we expect them to speak English... Yet when we go abroad, we also expect them to speak English? Where's the logic? Are we really that self-centred as a nation?

I went to Singapore last year, and while I was there I bumped into a sales woman. We had a brief conversation and I brought up the fact that I was studying Mandarin. Singapore is a country where English is widely spoken, in fact it is one of the official languages. As is Mandarin. This woman lit up once I mentioned that I was learning Mandarin and immediately spoke in Chinese... Unfortunately for me, I'd only had one lesson so could only sort of manage to say 'xiexie' to the woman, but she appreciated it nonetheless.

I study a foreign language because I want to be able to visit other countries and speak, at least some words, in their mother tongue. I want to go into a shop and ask where items are, or where directions to an attraction are. I don't want to count on being lucky that I happen to naturally speak English.

Additionally, it's a really cool set of skills to have. I'm not fluent in French, but I can speak, read and write in it. I also got to translate my CV into French as part of my course work. And Mandarin? Well, The up and coming countries to target with tourism are called 'BRIC' countries - ie, Brazil, Russia, India and China. Having a basic knowledge of any of the offical languages for these countries are going to be well sought after.

I should possibly stop my post here. Do you speak any languages? Which ones do you speak, and why do you speak them?

Until next time, be excellent to each other.

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