The value of communication
When I was younger I hated languages. My dad spoke several and was convinced I had inherited the knack. I scraped a GCSE in German and vowed to stick to English from then on.
It wasn’t until I started thinking about my gap year that I considered learning a second language while I was away. I eventually chose Chile, and to my surprise, 4 months into being there I was addicted to the buzz of learning Spanish.
I was working in a school for disabled children in a class of 6. Only two children could speak, and neither of them well, but I realised slowly that every child could communicate. Some of them used physical signs and movements to express themselves. Others used their voices – they made noises which changed depending on how they felt. They even ‘talked’ to each other, having arguments and friendly chats like anyone else. Every child in that room had a strong personality, likes and dislikes, desires and fears that they communicated every day, without saying a single sentence. Slowly, I learned not only Spanish but the language of every one of the children I cared for. It was inspirational to see these children whose disability gave them a good excuse to not learn, chatting with each other and myself with ease. I had been making excuses for not trying all these years and here were a group of disabled eight year olds showing me how important communication really is. It made me want to challenge myself to really learn Spanish so that I could express my personality in the way that they had learned to do.
And so, every day I would go to work for 8 hours, come home and spend my evenings studying Spanish. I loved the thrill of using or recognising a new word. When I arrived I spoke nothing but when I left I could happily have a conversation. I had changed my degree from History to Spanish language. My life was going in a completely different direction to how it had been travelling before I left, and I’m sure I’m happier than I would have been if I hadn’t changed course. That is what I learned from those children – that dedication to communication can open doors like nothing else. Doors to friendship and happiness, to excitement and adventure. Just don’t tell my dad that he was right….