You may think that I became a language lover when I married a man with a different nationality to me. The truth is my favourite subjects to study at school were always English language and foreign languages. I was fascinated by travel and being able to communicate. After a school trip to Rouen where myself and some other students were insulted in English by German school children (Yes they insulted us in our own language which they could speak pretty well!) I knew I could not cope with only knowing my own language.
Clearly that unpleasant moment stayed with me. But it really made me realise that most of the world is not monolingual. There is a perception in the UK that we don't need to learn another language. That we're a little bit superior maybe and that a loud voice and plenty of hand signals will get us through.
In many cases it will do. But now we're leaving the EU it's more important than ever that our children if not ourselves try and learn another language. As much as we may hope we won't need Europe it's unlikely that we won't have any involvement with each other. Need to do business with each other. Want to holiday on each others shores.
Disregarding the negativity that this decision has brought upon us there are many positives to learning a language and they are not just about words. Learning a second language is not an unusual concept. More than half of the world's population speaks more than one language. It should be something we do naturally rather than balk at.
Learning a language teaches you about other cultures. It makes you learn about customs and decipher behaviours. It gives you confidence and improves your general intelligence. It can bring satisfaction and give you more career opportunites. Who doesn't want all this for themselves or the next generation?
This week I've asked three foreign language teachers to share with us why they think learning a language is so important and how it has benefited them.
"Languages are not just a bunch of grammar rules and vocabulary stuck together.
Languages are about people.
When you show someone that you’re interested in their language, you show that you’re interested in them. Even a few badly pronounced words is a gesture of solidarity. Often, they’ll react with surprise or delight and open up to you more.
But most importantly, once you start learning languages and getting closer to people from different countries, you might realize that they’re not so different after all. Underneath those cultural quirks, they’re just like you.
In a world where politicians and the media are doing their best to draw attention to our differences, what we really need is normal folks from different cultures coming together and refusing to join this movement of 'not getting along'. We can’t do that without languages".
Katie is a teacher, writer and language junkie who speaks Italian, French, Spanish (+ some German and Mandarin). Based in Milan, she's been in love with languages ever since discovering she could learn Italian by going to the pub with Italians instead of memorizing word lists. Follow her on joyoflanguages.com to get tips and encouragement on how to learn a foreign language the fun way.
"I have experienced so many benefits while teaching English and learning Italian (and also French). As a teacher, I’ve met so many students from around the world in the classroom and abroad, and now I can put a face and a name to countries I had only heard about before in the news.
In this way we can get beyond media stereotypes and have meaningful dialogues to learn from each other. Language learning is perhaps the most powerful form of diplomacy.
As a student, language learning has been the key to my personal growth and development. I’ve had to get out of my comfort zone to make sounds that feel strange in my mouth, and get over the fear of making mistakes (actually I’m still working on it, I am such a perfectionist)!
I’ve also developed skills like dedication and perseverance - you have to be in it for the long haul to see results.
I am especially grateful that learning Italian has helped me create so many fulfilling friendships and connections through social media and in person, and most of all, meet the love of my life".
Kelly has been teaching English to International students in the United States for 10 years (and briefly in France and Italy). She is a passionate student of Italian, and blogs at italianatheart.com about her progress and learning strategies, which often involve cooking and wine!
"I'll start with research shows that learning a foreign language delays risk of developing Alzheimer disease. Does that make it sound more worthwhile? Definitely, as language reflects culture and with it gestures, procedures and values, when we learn a second language, we also acquire a different way of operating. To keep two or more languages and mindsets alive and kicking, you have to keep your brain constantly working.
Learning a foreign language in school or as an adult is like being a couch traveler as you passively start realizing that there is more than one reality and that your knowledge of the world is just one perspective. Also, different realities carry different words and expressions that dictionaries can't really translate.
With my American college students learning Italian I would let them try different approaches to learning in our classes. They like the freedom of what i normally refer to as the 'split personality disorder' or the fact that you slightly change personality when switching language and culture.
During our classes, they could pretend to be in Italy and be Italian in their excuses, jokes and hands gestures. So language can be fun as well as teach you something. It can be quite liberating.
A language is definitely made up of words and grammar, but it is also a living creature that goes through constant changes. Without cultural interaction and language use, words just lose their power and they become like math: dry.
To me personally, learning languages has always granted me a peaceful archipelago where to find solace from the stress of my daily life.
I share Jhumpa Lahiri's view which is that the top achievement in the language learning process is to culturally and linguistically blend in. Consequently, the best compliment I am normally paid is being asked what area I am from according to the country I am speaking the language.
Having lived for 11 years abroad I think must have changed my ways as my native fellow city people don't take me for a local anymore... but as a rabbit of the Chinese horoscope, to me this means that I am a global citizen and I can make my home wherever I go. And it all started with the learning of new tiny foreign words".
Lucia Hannau is native of Turin, Italy where she graduated in American studies and French. After completing her M.A. from The Ohio State University, she was the Italian Language Program Director at Purdue University for 9 years.
Back in Turin, Lucia has been teaching English as a second language, FL2, ELE and ITAL2 and yoga/pilates. Since 2014 Lucia has been organizing Turin Epicurean Capital www.turinepi.com to share her town and region with the rest of the world.