I took language lessons at school. My choices? French or German. At first, we all took lessons in both and my brain melted from Year 6 until Year 9, when we were then told to pick one and that this would be the language we continued with through to our GCSEs. (I later found out that you could also take Spanish but that was only an option if you were good at French or German – so that was me out).
Out of the two, I picked German. I never really got on with French and found German more interesting – I can’t remember why. But now I was stuck with it and as the lessons went on, I became more and more confused and less and less interested. Thinking back, the classes were just too big and with only one teacher and 20+ students, there was no point in asking for help as you weren’t going to get it. The teacher can’t stop and backtrack the whole class because 4 of the 20 kids don’t get it, can they? Besides, I had Maths to worry about. And Biology. And boys. German was not important to me – I didn’t need it to get into College. To be honest I was just dutifully going to my classes to make sure I didn’t end up on report!
My German GCSE exam was a joke. I have one memory of the speaking exam, where I managed to twig that my teacher was asking me what I like to do on holiday. I mumbled something about getting an ice cream with my brother and that was it. The result of 6 years of German lessons? A big fat E. Wunderbar!
Oh well. Still, I went to college then got a job etc. Not once did I need to know German or speak it and so whatever I did know ended up in the bucket of my brain, never to be used again.
20+ years later…
I joined Dialogue in 2018 as a Training Co-Ordinator for their language department, organising both group and 1-1 language lessons. All of a sudden I went from working in the local Court admin office (where the only languages I really heard were English / bad English / multiple swearwords of I’ve-just-been-found-guilty defendants) to being surrounded by work colleagues who could speak not just English but also French / German / Russian / Italian / Portuguese / Dutch / Japanese. And next to them was me, with my Big Fat E.
Ann-Marie Mead, Training Co-Ordinator at Dialogue
In the back of my head I have always felt a little embarrassed that I only knew my native language. And it’s purely because I (and so many others) have this view – “It’s ok as if I ever go on holiday to insert pretty much any country in the world, I know that if I speak English it’s highly likely someone there will know English too – so I don’t need to know their own language”. How lazy! And I don’t think the UK schools system puts enough emphasis on the importance of learning a second language in terms of how far it could get you in life. What if your dream job requires you to have a second language? What if you miss out on discovering new foods / music / friends on holiday because you can’t communicate with anyone? Would anyone want to be your friend anyway if you’re just going to point and shout at a picture of a beer bottle in a bar in Spain?
Later that year, I decided to go on a long weekend to Berlin. Working in a language training company and researching countries for Intercultural Training really makes you want to travel! So me, my partner and my Big Fat E pre-booked a hotel, two travel passes and a tour guide of the city and decided to see how much of Berlin we could get around in 4 days. More importantly to me, how much of the language I could understand and use whilst I was there.
Well, I could remember something. I recognised a few words and uttered a please or thank you here and there. (I managed to get us to the Zoo by deciphering Zoologischer Garten to Zoological Garden – amazing!) I do remember trying to order a mint tea and a coffee in a café and being so utterly un-confident in my ability I was too quiet for the waiter to understand and so switched to English. Plus, it doesn’t help that Berlin is predominantly a tourist city and so English is pretty much spoken anyway – it’s so easy to give up and revert back, which is exactly what I did. Still, to visit and enjoy the country and culture was fun and whilst I usually only visit somewhere once and move on to another, I decided that I would definitely come back here and try again.
Thanks to lockdown, I’m not going anywhere for a while so Berlin will have to wait. But one silver lining is that my employers have kindly decided to support me with my language training – after all, becoming a student myself allows me to bring a huge amount of insight when discussing with our clients and fellow students our language courses, in particular:
– How our courses are structured
– What kind of materials are used
– How long it might take to reach a certain level
– How much “homework” is needed to supplement lessons
– The frustrations (and satisfaction!) encountered when learning a new language
So let’s get started…more to follow in my upcoming blogs!
And in the meantime, find out more about our foreign language training packages here.