Modern Foreign Languages are a Blessing!
My decision to carry on with French at A Level after my GCSEs was constantly met with immediate reactions of shock and horror. Everyone I told only ever seemed to ask an incredulous why followed by an infinite amount of unsaid question and exclamation marks. This reaction led to a creeping doubt that only grew as the start of term got closer.
As a known terrible decision maker, it led to quite the crisis about whether I would be able to handle this seemingly Herculean task as my personal tutor, Frankie, can attest to. We decided together that I should persevere, and I’ve never been happier about this decision. I am particularly grateful to Frankie for encouraging me to keep it on along with my other three subjects. Although that first year was a tough one, that year of experience helped me realise my love for the French language.
More importantly, learning French has improved my confidence by leaps and bounds. No one would describe me as shy especially if only observing my social interactions. However, I was very nervous when approaching French oral exercises and actually speaking French. I thought I hid this well, but Brigitte, my French tutor, offered many ways and exercises to help boost my confidence without shaming me in any way. Although these exercises helped me a great deal, it was the manner with which she approached me about it that really helped me become more vocal in classes. The fear I had of being teased about my speaking skills was defeated by her kindness, compassion and gentle guidance. No matter how many times I stumbled and made terrible grammatical errors, Brigitte never berated me but simply helped me realise my mistake and waited for me to correct myself. This approach has removed the pressing need to be perfect. Just like other people struggle with learning English which comes so easily to me, I struggle with French because it’s just like any other language. Unless you’re some sort of linguistic genius you will struggle at some point. Learning French with Brigitte has helped me realise my strengths and taught me to not be ashamed of my weaknesses and I will always be grateful for the opportunity.
But why should more people study French, or any foreign language for that matter?
The most obvious answer everyone gives is the opportunities you open up when you take on any foreign language. Everyday our society becomes more and more globalised with business collaborations opening up across borders and thousands of miles. Mastering French, one of the most important languages of the 21st Century, puts you at an advantage over peers for job opportunities and experiences in about 29 countries worldwide as well as making you a valuable asset to international firms with multilingual dealings. It also opens thousands of study opportunities abroad when applying to university.
Learning French is also a great idea because of the chance to partake in the authentic, cultural experience other than your own. Regardless of where and how you learn a foreign language, an integral part of this process will always be discovering concepts and traditions exclusive to that culture and language. While learning about French music, Brigitte introduced us to a few popular French artists and I immediately fell in love with Stromae’s music. Learning French offers access to the works of great French writers such as Victor Hugo or Marcel Proust and famous poets like Charles Baudelaire or Jacques Prévert, in the original text. I’ve recently taken up reading Le Petit Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry which I had attempted to read in English when I was younger. Unfortunately, it felt like an essential part of the magic of this renowned novel had been lost in translation as so often happens with translations. My improved skill in French has given me the chance to enjoy many works of art ranging from music to literature in their original form.
Not to toot my own horn, or as the French would say s’envoyer pas mes fleurs, but learning a second language, especially one like French which is so closely linked to English, makes you much smarter to put it simply. Learning a second language is a plus because it gives you a different grasp on reality if you know enough about both languages to draw interesting relations between them. This is because most of the time, the human mind works by analogy. This unconscious process surfaces during the translation process because the translator has to evaluate different analogies used by different languages to select the right (equivalent) meaning. Take the French idiom prendre ses jambes à son cou. Translated literally it means to take one’s legs to one’s neck, that is to run for one’s life. When you imagine - and what a hilarious image that is - someone running like that you can see how that came to be an idiom. This approach to language or speaking helps you to improve cognitive functions as study after study has proven. Memory improvement, longer attention span, and a reduced risk of age-related cognitive decline are just a few of the known positive effects of speaking two or more languages.
Everyone has their own unique reasons for wanting to learn another language. While yours may match some of mine above, there might be some other personal reasons which piqued your interest. Regardless of what it is, my advice is to take a chance and see where the language takes you. I promise you won’t be disappointed. Bonne chance!