On Learning a Foreign Language…

I just found this amongst my CELTA stuff from 10 years ago. Interesting to read my own thoughts as a budding teacher. It’s so passionate and straight from the heart (if a little naive!).

The Benefits of Learning a Foreign Language

For me, learning another language is a chance to put your self in another person’s shoes.  When you begin to be able to communicate with native speakers, you almost feel as if you are forming another personality.

This feeling is especially powerful if you are learning the language in its native country.  It’s a very humbling experience to be dropped into someone else’s society and to have to start from scratch, to have to try and understand not only the language, but also the culture.

The smallest things become difficult, buying a bus ticket, for example, or reading a menu, or asking directions.  You feel child-like and idiotic, like you have been stripped of your dignity, like a fish out of water.  Part of you just wants to go back home where you would feel comfortable and safe again.  But you don’t, because, as well as having these negative feelings, you also feel excited, because everything you do is new and fascinating. Every little achievement is magnified, because at first it had seemed so impossible.  You discover part of yourself that you didn’t know was there, capabilities that you didn’t know you had.  You feel almost as if you’ve got a chance to wipe the slate clean and start again in a different direction.

It’s intriguing to ‘act’ in this new character that you have discovered.  You are constantly wondering how you are perceived in this new guise.  Reality seems a little bit fuzzy around the edges, because you can never be quite sure that you understand are understood.  It’s all too easy to say the wrong thing at the wrong time, to make grammatical errors that, if you translated them into your own language would make you feel ashamed, and, worst of all, to be met with a blank expression of misunderstanding.

These are the difficulties you will face. However, the sense of achievement you have when you get things right is second to none.  It is as if you have a puzzle in front of you, a chaotic assemblage of nouns, verbs, exclamations, mannerisms and colloquialisms, and you can’t fit all of these oddly shaped pieces together so that they make sense.  But every day, bit by bit, you start to see the picture, and these moments of clarity are so addictively wonderful, that you are determined to try and finish the puzzle.



Author: Lindsey Clark

Just finished an MA programme in Applied Linguistics at Durham University, and continuing the research on language learner histories in Greece. Previously I was teaching in Italy (9 years) and the UK. I'm a Cambridge speaking and writing examiner, a conference speaker, occasional teacher of Italian, aspiring author and always working hard at cultivating my own multilingualism. I'm particularly interested in student-centred approaches to preparing students for EFL exams. Other stuff I'm into: how English is really used by 'native' speakers (check out my Twitter account @ClarkLinz), using translation and L1, the Flipped Classroom, the Lexical Approach, and the usefulness and pitfalls of self-assessment.

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