What my Languages Degree Taught Me

Besides the obvious – languages

I started my languages degree with the intention of just studying Italian from ab initio. Although it certainly took me a while to decide what to even study – I’d contemplated English Literature but was daunted by the ammount of reading I’d possibly have to do and honestly at 18 just wasn’t sure what else would be a good idea. I’d always said I wanted to learn Italian as my Nonno was Italian and I wanted to be able to communicate with our family who were still in Italy. So, I took the plunge.

Upon arriving at uni, I was told I could also study German as I’d done it at A-Level all I needed to do was select the Advanced German Language module and take the compulsory German culture module too… then, after a year I could decide if I wanted to change my degree title to Italian with German, or just keep it as Italian. Inevitably I became a joint honours student.

Learning Italian from scratch certainly wasn’t the easiest feat… especially as someone who is not and never will be fanatic about learning grammar. Studying German alongside Italian however, made me appreciate the foundations I already had made in German from school and I in many ways motivated me to keep persisting with Italian as I knew it’d eventually come.

I won’t lie, my aim of my Italian degree was to be able to speak to my family and of course to come away with a decent degree result. It was not to have a perfect, infallible understanding of conjugations and this never really changed throughout my degree. I much prefered (and still do) speaking the language or even writing essays over tedious grammar or comprehension tasks.

By the end of my first year I felt I was learning at a much slower pace than the other students in my class who had or were all studying other romance languages. I had only studied German and Russian up until this point and they seemed miles apart, especially in comparison to the students who seemed to just be able to slightly ‘tweak’ certain Spanish or French words to get them to make sense in Italian. So, I spent a month of my summer break in Salerno, Italy on an intensive language course to give me a jump start on my second year.

It probably wasn’t until my third year, on my placement year abroad that I felt like I was getting anywhere with the language. I threw myself into the culture, the language and experience. I asked my boss and colleagues to only speak to me in Italian, I lived with an Italian family and joined a local athletics club – with athletes who again, didn’t really speak much English. I suppose looking back it was a sink or swim kind of situation. Of course I made innumerable mistakes (I still was in German, after 10 years of learning) but I thrived being able to soak up the culture, hear and use the language on a daily basis.

I’ll never be a perfect Italian (or German) grammarian, but I can now chit-chat with my family in Italian and I bagged a 2:1 at the end of it all.

So what did my languages degree teach me?
Besides the fact I detest grammar…

  1. You’ll never succeed if you don’t even try
  2. Sometimes you’ll look like a fool and make silly mistakes, but you’ll learn from them all
  3. A huge appreciation for other cultures, mannerisms and little quirks
  4. Sometimes the hardest experiences will turn out to be the most rewarding
  5. Everyone learns at their own pace and in different ways, be patient with yourself

KW

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