By: Emily Maybanks
From Monday 13th until Friday 17th November 2017, it is International Education Week 2017 #IEW2017. Each year, the British Council encourages the celebration of International Education Week as a means of promoting the benefits of international collaboration, languages and cultural exchange. During International Education Week 2017, the British Council is focusing on global communication and more specifically language learning, with the belief that these skills are more important now than ever. The theme of this year’s International Education Week is ‘Be International’ (#BeInternational).
To acknowledge International Education Week 2017, I’m going to share my story of studying languages – how it’s helped me and what it’s taught me.
At Swansea University, I am currently in my final year of my undergraduate degree, and I am studying Modern Languages, Translation and Interpreting (BA Translation for short). The languages which I study through my degree are French and Italian. I’ve been studying French since I started secondary school, and I’ve been studying Italian since I started University.
My degree involved a year abroad which I did in the academic year 2015-2016. I spent a semester studying at the Università di Bologna campus in Forlì in Italy and then a semester studying at the Université de Genève in Geneva in Switzerland. My year abroad was certainly a mixed experience. On the one hand, I struggled quite a bit with studying abroad as well as meeting people, making friends and improving my language skills – particularly my confidence in speaking the languages. On the other hand, I gained so much independence, I became increasingly resilient and I had the opportunity to do some travelling around Italy and see some beautiful cities including Venice, Milan and my favourite, Verona, as well as the absolutely amazing experience of going to see Il Divo in Zurich.
Learning languages has always been something I’m passionate about, though, if someone would have told me ten years ago that I’d end up pursuing a degree involving languages, I would never have believed them because throughout all of my life, I’ve been painfully shy and I’ve always lacked self-confidence and self-belief. It wasn’t until I studied French at A Level that I seriously started to fall in love with language learning and began to think about a career involving languages. My A Level French teacher – who is still one of the most important women in my life – always inspired me to not give up on languages. She always believed in me and motivated me, and she still does. I’m very much inspired by her international background because she is Latvian but she spent most of her life teaching French in secondary schools. My brief experiences of teaching English as a foreign language this summer and my ambition to hopefully pursue a career in TEFL after University have taught me that as a language teacher, my role model – the teacher I’d like to mirror in a sense – is my former A Level French teacher.
Not only do I enjoy learning about the grammar of the French and Italian languages and noticing all the similarities and differences between the two languages, as well as English, but I’ve also been able to develop and build on my strength and passion in writing. I adore writing – in English, in French and in Italian and developing the ability and the confidence to express myself creatively in all three languages is a skill that I hope never to lose. Learning and studying languages, although it brings with it many challenges at times and sometimes leaves me questioning myself, has helped me so much in my life, not least to be able to articulate myself better and gain an extensive vocabulary. Furthermore, I’ve spent a lot of my life speaking with a slight stutter or stammer which has knocked my already low self-confidence further, but pushing myself in studying languages has also helped me to overcome that aspect of my life.
I do strongly believe that learning languages, and even spending a year studying abroad and immersing oneself in a completely different culture is a fantastic way to learn about oneself in terms of skills, personality and career prospects. A year or a semester abroad looks amazing on a CV too; it proves that someone has the ability to adapt to new and somewhat challenging experiences. Promoting International Education Week and the benefits of languages and cross cultural communication is a good idea – there are lots of ways to learn languages from Internet and online resources and apps such as Duolingo to sometimes having the opportunity to either learn a language alongside one’s degree or spend some time studying abroad as part of one’s degree.
I love studying French and Italian as part of my degree and my time spent studying abroad taught me a lot about myself. I have ambitions to continue my language learning beyond University and I’d especially love to learn Spanish. The language I am really keen to start learning though is Latin.