Having the ability to speak another language is one of the most admirable, useful and incredible skills we can have. Nothing else quite compares. Yet in Australia, learning a language is not overly encouraged or common. We already speak English, which has become a sort of universal language in itself, so why would we need to learn another? Since I was young, I’ve always had an interest in other cultures and ways of life and as I grew up, I came to realise the extremely important role that language plays in a culture.
At my high school, it was compulsory to study French for a year. However, that year was year 8, when everyone’s about 14 years old and really doesn’t care about school, let alone learning another language. I really took to it, and chose it as an elective for year 9 & 10. I wanted to continue it for year 11 & 12 however my school put French and Mathematics on at the same time so I had to make a decision. I chose French, however because of it being the same time as Mathematics, they didn’t have enough numbers. So I looked in to doing French by correspondence. I remember my year advisor taking me out of class one day to talk to me about my subject selection. He told me how French was not going to contribute towards a university degree or a career, unlike Mathematics. He told me students who take Mathematics at high school do far better in their HSC (high school certificate) and go on to get better ATARS (an ATAR is a number we use in Australia to determine what university courses you can get in to – so it’s pretty important). So… listening to my teacher and his ‘world of wisdom,’ I decided against doing French and chose Mathematics instead.
Fast forward a few years and I’ve never used that Mathematics in my life, that subject didn’t even contribute towards my final HSC mark, it’s compulsory for me to study a language as part of my degree, and I’ve just finished an intensive short course in France. Mmmm…. Yep, it seems that French really has not been beneficial in my life at all.
(To read about my short course in La Rochelle, click here).
Travelling and meeting people from across the world has helped me realise the true importance of learning a language. So here are my reasons for why learning a language is one of the most valuable life skills you’ll ever learn.
In Australia, we never have people come up to us in shops, restaurants, on the street to ask us something in their native language. If they did we should shoo them away and think ‘you’re in Australia mate.’ However as soon as the role is reversed and you’re on a Eurotrip trying to order tapas and beer, it’s OK for you to speak English and expect the other person to know English as well?
Even if you’re not perfect and make mistakes, that’s OK. They’ll appreciate you trying.
It’s so much more than being able to say hello
When going to a new country, a lot of people learn hello, thank you and good bye. Whilst this is a good start, being able to be conversational in a language opens you up to so many more experiences. Sadly, French is the only language I (partly) speak. At the beginning of August I spent a week in Spain (awesome right?!) And yes it was indeed awesome, but I genuinely struggled with the language barrier. Sure, everyone spoke English and we could get by, but I couldn’t help but constantly feel reminded of the fact that I was a tourist. I felt like I was missing out on something. Whilst of course I had an amazing time, I’m sure that if I spoke Spanish, even just a little bit, I would’ve had an even more incredible time.
It allows you to have a much more genuine travel experience
By being able to speak the language of the country you’re in, you’re going to feel much more immersed in their authentic culture. You can meet locals at bars, tell them about your life and learn about theirs, discuss current topics and the country you’re in.
It’s a skill that you have to keep working at
Sure, knowing a language is a lifelong skill, but you have to keep practising. And the best way to practice isn’t in a classroom or on an app, but by travelling or better yet, living in that country and speaking that language all day every day. Is there any other skill you can think of that forces you to travel? Cool right!
You’ll learn a lot about yourself
By learning a language, you not only learn about verbs, tenses and vocab, but you also learn a lot about yourself and your personal style of talking and about you. This one is hard to explain so I’ll just use an example. My grammar is by far my low point of my French skills. Tell me a rule and I’ll remember it and use it. But don’t then tell me there’s a million exceptions to this rule… hello passé composé! But my speaking and oral skills are by far my best. Sure, you need grammar to talk properly, but it’s not the biggest deal if you use the wrong tense or use ‘tu’ instead of ‘vous.’ Many of my French friends have told me and sure they notice it, but personally I’d prefer to be able to talk to people and express my opinions and thoughts that be able to write an essay with perfect grammar.
I think this just says about me as a personal that I don’t sweat all of the rules and I’m happy to go with the flow and just have some fun, even if you make a few mistakes along the way. Well, that’s just my little psychoanalysis of myself.
My month studying French in La Rochelle is probably one of the most challenging yet rewarding things I’ve ever done. I’m incredibly proud of myself and that I managed to learn more about a language and culture, but also myself.