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….
How important do you think it is to be able to communicate in different languages?